The Veterans Affairs Department is taking weeks to provide or repair hearing aids for its patients, leaving hearing-impaired veterans at risk in the latest failure by the agency charged with caring for America’s war heroes.
The VA has promised to provide hearing aids within five days, but the agency’s inspector general found that the average wait time was between 17 and 24 days. About 30 percent of veterans are waiting 30 days or more, and of those, 10 percent are waiting to have their hearing aids fixed for two months or more, a report released last week found.
VA officials blamed staffing issues for the delays, but investigators actually visited a facility where large numbers of hearing devices were sitting undistributed in boxes and on carts.
Veterans groups are outraged, saying that the delays pose a serious threat to veterans’ safety.
“It’s a safety issue, they are put at risk,” said Gerald Manar, deputy director of National Veterans Service for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “If they cross the street and don’t hear an approaching car anything can happen if you’re not hearing well.”
Other groups have said the waiting periods for new hearing aids and hearing aid repairs is unsatisfactory.
“We do believe that it is unacceptable that veterans are having to wait this long,” said Edward Lilley, a senior field service representative at the American Legion. “The VA needs to meet their own standard.”
Mr. Lilley added that the American Legion plans to reach out to the VA inspector general to follow up on the report and obtain more information.
Investigators said they think that 30 days — 25 days later than the VA’s goal — “allows sufficient time for medical facilities to issue a hearing aid to a veteran who depends on it for their daily activities.”
Inspectors visited the Denver Acquisition and Logistics Center (DALC), which serves as a central processing facility for the VA, and said they observed 19,500 hearing aids backlogged, unopened, sitting on carts and waiting for repairs or replacements.
Part of the reason the agency kept veterans waiting was because staff never recorded when they received the hearing aids or requests for the devices.
“Without a timely recording system, staff cannot adequately respond to or track inquiries from veterans and medical facilities concerning the status of a hearing aid pending repair services,” the IG said in a report released Thursday.
DALC said that five of their 21 technician positions for working on the hearing aids were vacant for much of 2012, and that the repair lab hasn’t been fully staffed since February 2011.
“Medical facilities’ audiology staff attributed the delays to inadequate staffing to meet an increased workload,” the IG said.
Meanwhile, the workload has been steadily ticking upward, with 358,000 repairs of hearing aids in fiscal 2011 and 394,000 in fiscal 2012.