Veteran gets overdue hearing aids after VA delay

Minneapolis VA acts quickly after KARE 11 Investigates hearing aid delay.

Veteran gets overdue hearing aids after VA delay

ROCHESTER, MN – A veteran desperate to hear the voice of his ailing wife finally got hearing aids after KARE 11 contacted numerous lawmakers to help remedy a lengthy delay by the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs.

Denny Madson had been waiting for his hearing aids nearly 16 months when his family asked for help.

Service… and sacrifice

Madson's hearing was damaged during time the 78-year-old spent as a jet mechanic in the U.S. Air Force. He dealt with it for decades, but eventually his desire to hear his wife of 56 years made Madson desperate for a solution.

Denny's wife Darlene is suffering from an array of medical complications, including a pair of strokes that have left her unable to speak above a whisper. He has been at her side through it all, often reading her old love letters as Darlene undergoes care at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. "Good night my darling I love you always," Madson reads aloud from the hundreds of letters he and Darlene exchanged while he served overseas during the 1950s.

"I am always thinking about you," he continues, as a struggling smile appears on Darlene's face.

The Madson's have been together since Denny asked Darlene to the junior prom in the 8th grade. "She wouldn't let me kiss her," he recalls of that date 61 years ago that led to marriage. "I don't think we've ever had an angry word in that time."

These days, "Can you hear me?" has become an all too familiar question for Darlene. And for Denny, the answer is often, "No."

"We didn't use any kind of hearing protection in those days," Madson says of his time in the air force.

Search for solutions

Denny turns to the VA

Denny took to wearing an old pair of hearing aids he paid for himself. But for more than a year, he had been trying to secure an appointment at the Minneapolis VA in hopes of getting a newer, better set of hearing aids.

"After about a year or so, I got this letter that, yup, we got an appointment up in Minneapolis at the VA," he said. He finally had an audiology test in November of 2014 and the VA agreed his hearing loss was service-related, so they approved him for new set of hearing aids.

"They said it could take quite a while, but I would receive a letter of when I would be fitted," Madson shared.

Month after month passed, and Madson still had not received the letter he needed to be fitted for new hearing aids.

Waiting and waiting

Report says VA not timely

The delay is a situation that sounds all too familiar to many veterans across the country. In an audit done last year the VA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found the "VA was not timely in issuing new hearing aids to veterans."

Speaking before a congressional committee in April of 2014, Rep. Sean Duffy of (R-Wisconsin) said, "often times a veteran who needs an initial exam, or a hearing test will wait two weeks to one year and then their hearing aids are ordered, and it's two weeks to one year before they actually get the hearing aid itself."

Rep. Duffy and Congressman Tim Walz (D-Minnesota) have been pushing bi-partisan legislation for the past two years that they claim will help alleviate the long wait for hearing aids. However, KARE 11 Investigators found there is more to this problem than simply a backlog. The OIG audit also found what it calls "inconsistencies" in how audiology staff schedule appointments, at times putting in the "incorrect desired appointment dates."

"That seems to go back to the very issue that's created the scandal at the VA system-wide," KARE 11 investigative reporter A.J. Lagoe said to Walz during a recent interview. "And I said I can't express my anger and my frustration at it, but I would be disingenuous if I said I was overly surprised," Walz said.

KARE 11 News has reported extensively over the last year about how whistleblowers at the Minneapolis VA claim the same type of record manipulation was taking place in various medical clinics at the facility. They say it's an attempt to make VA wait times seem better than they actually are. Those allegations are still under federal investigation.

Madson doesn't know if there was any manipulation in his case, but he was growing tired of waiting for those new hearing aids. He simply doesn't know how much longer he will have the opportunity to hear his wife's failing voice.

Family seeks help

KARE contacts lawmakers,VA

Fueled by those concerns, his family contacted KARE 11 News.

At the same time, the VA told Madson's family that his hearing test, the one he had back in November, was no longer valid. To get his new hearing aids, he'd have to be re-tested. So, in late March, Madson had that second test at Olmstead Medical Center in Rochester. The audiology clinic there contracts with the VA.

KARE'11's Lagoe went along with Madson to his test. The doctor who performed the exam confirmed Madson's hearing loss to be severe. She then created molds of his ears and ordered the hearing aids. She did warn him there could be a delay. She said civilian patients get their hearing aids in one to two weeks but with the VA, it could be a month or longer. At this point, Madson had been trying to get those much-needed hearing aids for about 16 months.

After the appointment, KARE 11 News went to work, contacting the VA and numerous lawmakers. When Congressman Walz heard about Madson's story he called it "heartbreaking." He also got on the phone and called Minneapolis VA Director Patrick Kelly personally. The hearing aids arrived one week later.

"Oh that feels good" said Denny as he slipped his new hearing aids on for the first time. "They're a good fit."

Madson was ecstatic to share the news with his wife Darlene. "I got the new hearing aids," he exclaimed as he walked into her hospital room. His new set is a big upgrade. They even have a microphone that Darlene can wear to transmit her voice directly into Denny's ears.

"If I'm not in the room or something you can talk to me, and it will go right to my hearing aid, it's all wireless," he tells her.

"Can you hear me?" she asked quietly. "Yes, yes," he replied with a big smile.

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