LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - The most common injury sustained by U.S. troops is literally a silent wound: Hearing loss. A backlog of veterans needing hearing healthcare has some Louisiana vets waiting more than a year for help. Now, there is an effort to change that.
The Department of Veterans Affairs says the most common disabilities for veterans are tinnitus, ringing in the ears, and hearing loss. Hearing specialist Kirt Loupe operates HEAR4U at the Sears Hearing Aid Center in Lake Charles. He said hearing loss is especially prominent for veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Veterans who have served between 2001 and 2010 are four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans," he said.
In fact, 60 percent of returning soldiers have damaged hearing. But Loupe said the wait for hearing healthcare can last longer than their deployments.
"The VA is doing everything they can, but because there's such a serious backlog, sometimes more than two years, there's no way they're ever going to catch up," said Loupe.
Loupe is serving as the Louisiana chair for an organization called "Fit To Serve." Its goal is to allow hearing specialists, in addition to audiologists, the opportunity to serve veterans. He heads to Capitol Hill this week to fight for that policy change.
"There's 9,000 hearing instrument specialists in the International Hearing Society that stand ready to perform whatever their needs are for hearing healthcare," said Loupe.
It is not just a shortage of audiologists, Loupe said, causing a strain on vets with hearing problems. Hearing healthcare is primarily offered to Louisiana vets at the VA clinic in Alexandria, a long drive for some.
"That not only puts pressure on them, but it also puts pressure and stress on the family members of aged veterans who have to carry them there," said Loupe.
Loupe has seen that first-hand. He treated World War II veteran Virgil LeBlanc after he received an ill-fitting hearing aid by the VA.
"They just needed a little bit of help and it made such a difference in his life and his family's life," said Loupe, "to me, that's what this whole program and this whole organization is about."
Loupe said he is not fighting for new legislation, just a tweak to the current VA policy. He will be meeting with various members of Congress on this issue, including representatives with our Louisiana delegation.
On the other side of this issue are some audiologists that say the amount of education and clinical training they must go through to get their doctor of audiology better qualifies them to provide treatment.
Click here to learn more about the Fit To Serve initiative and how you can submit your own concerns to someone ready to act.