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M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, Chapter 4, Section D – Conditions of the Auditory System

Overview


In This Section

This section contains the following topics:

1.   Rating Principles for Conditions of the Auditory System


Introduction

This topic contains general information about rating principles for conditions of the auditory system, including

Change Date

April 9, 2019

III.iv.4.D.1.a.  SC for Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Review each claim for direct service connection (SC) for hearing loss and/or tinnitus for
  • sufficient evidence of a current audiological disability, or lay evidence of difficulty hearing, and
  • evidence documenting
    • hearing loss and/or tinnitus in service, or
    • an in-service event, injury, disease, or symptoms potentially related to an audiological disability.
Important:
  • A claim for hearing loss is acceptable lay evidence that the claimant is stating that he/she experiences difficulty hearing.
  • A claim for tinnitus is acceptable lay evidence that the claimant is stating that he/she experiences symptoms associated with tinnitus, such as ringing in the ears.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus are considered organic diseases of the nervous system and are subject to presumptive SC under 38 CFR 3.309(a).
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.1.b.  Considering the Duty MOS Noise Exposure Listing and Combat Duties

The Duty Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) Noise Exposure Listing, which has been reviewed and endorsed by each branch of service, is available athttp://vbaw.vba.va.gov/bl/21/rating/docs/dutymosnoise.xls.
  • Based on the Veteran’s records, review each duty MOS, Air Force Specialty Code, rating, or duty assignment documented on the Duty MOS Noise Exposure Listing to determine the probability of exposure to hazardous noise.
  • When the duty position is shown to have a high, moderate, or lowprobability of hazardous noise exposure, concede exposure to hazardous noise for the purposes of establishing an event in service.
  • Also review the Veteran’s records for evidence that the Veteran engaged in combat with the enemy in active service during a period of war, campaign, or expedition.  If the evidence establishes that the Veteran was engaged in combat, concede exposure to hazardous noise for the purposes of establishing an event in service.
Notes:
  • The Duty MOS Noise Exposure Listing is not an exclusive means of establishing a Veteran’s in-service noise exposure.  Evaluate claims for SC for hearing loss in light of the circumstances of the Veteran’s service and all available evidence, including treatment records and examination results.
  • When hazardous noise exposure is conceded based on the Veteran engaging in combat, accept satisfactory lay or other evidence of service incurrence or aggravation of such injury or disease, if consistent with the circumstances, conditions, or hardships of such service, even if there is no official record of such incurrence or aggravation in such service.  Resolve every reasonable doubt in favor of the Veteran, unless there is clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.1.c.Considering National Guard and Reserve Duty for Hearing Loss and/or Tinnitus Claims

Claims for SC of hearing loss and/or tinnitus due to service in the National Guard or Reserves should be considered under the same criteria as any claim for SC of hearing loss and/or tinnitus.  The condition must be causally related to service.
  • First, consider SC on the basis of a potential relationship to periods of active duty or active duty for training (ADT).
  • When SC for hearing loss and/or tinnitus may not be directly related to a period of active duty or extended ADT, entitlement to SC may still be established if there has been a decrease in auditory acuity due to military duties as a member of the National Guard or Reserves.
  • SC for hearing loss and/or tinnitus can be established for inactive duty for training (IADT) if the condition can be linked to an injury during IADT as shown by the nature of service, MOS, lay evidence, or other competent evidence.
Follow the procedures in the table below when developing for evidence of a decrease in auditory acuity due to National Guard or Reserve duty service and deciding whether an examination and/or medical opinion is warranted.
Step
Action
1
Obtain National Guard or Reserve medical records documenting the auditory baseline.
2
Consider the type of MOS and military duties performed during National Guard or Reserve service.  Follow the guidance in M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.1.b.
Note:  For purposes of hearing loss or tinnitus during IADT, the MOS or other evidence establishing noise exposure serves as the injury during IADT required for SC eligibility, per M21-1, Part IV, Subpart ii, 2.B.1.m.
3
Review the entire evidentiary record for noise exposure to ascertain both in-service and post-service exposure to hazardous noise.
 
Note:  Although the National Guard or Reserve service records should show auditory threshold shifts during National Guard or Reserve service, the service records do not need to meet the criteria in 38 CFR 3.385 to warrant an examination and/or medical opinion if all other requirements for ordering examinations and medical opinions in M21-1, Part I, 1.C.3 are satisfied.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.1.d.  Requesting Audiometric Examinations and Medical Opinions 

Where the question of SC is at issue, request an audiometric examination and/or medical opinion when necessary under 38 CFR 3.159(c)(4).
  • Competent evidence of a current diagnosis or symptoms could include records or lay evidence of difficulty hearing or tinnitus.  A claim for hearing loss is acceptable lay evidence that the claimant is stating that he/she experiences difficulty hearing.
  • Establishment of an event, injury, or disease in service is fact-specific. Even if there is documentation of an in-service illness, injury, or event involving the ears or hearing, the Duty MOS Noise Exposure listing and evidence of combat service should still be considered.
    • When noise exposure is conceded based on the Duty MOS Noise Exposure Listing, include the level of probability conceded (high, moderate, low) in the information provided to the examiner in the body of the examination request.
    • If noise exposure is conceded based on engagement in combat with the enemy, include this detail in the information provided to the examiner in the body of the examination request.
    • If an examination and/or opinion are otherwise necessary based on an event, injury, or disease, also include the probable level of exposure to hazardous noise associated with the Veteran’s documented duty position in the examination request remarks.
  • In most instances when noise exposure is conceded as a result of MOS, combat, or event in service this will also satisfy the indication of association between service and current disability for the purposes of finding an examination necessary.
Notes:
  • An examination should be requested when a claim for hearing loss is received and there is evidence of an event, injury or disease in service.  Follow the procedures in M21-1, Part I, 1.C.3.k with reference to the timing of the examination request.
  • A decision not to order an examination must be supported with adequate reasons and bases in the rating decision.
  • Request a medical opinion regarding the significance of prior audiological findings if the evidence of record is unclear on any point, such as when there is no evidence of calibrated audiometry testing in the record.  Older records frequently contain whispered voice tests which cannot be considered as reliable evidence that hearing loss did or did not occur.
References:  For more information on

2.  Hearing Loss


Introduction

This topic contains general information about hearing loss, including

Change Date

April 9, 2019

III.iv.4.D.2.a.  Sympathetic Reading of Hearing Loss Claims

Claims, particularly those from unrepresented claimants, must be read sympathetically.  In some cases, a claim that appears to raise only the issue of SC or an increased evaluation for hearing loss will, by reason of its wording, also require consideration of SC for tinnitus.
In cases where the claim is phrased as a claim for SC or increased evaluation for “hearing loss” (or similar wording) and other lay or medical evidence raises the issue of tinnitus and establishes entitlement to SC, consider the issue of tinnitus as within scope of the claim for hearing loss.

Where SC is established for tinnitus, use the date of the hearing-related claim for effective date purposes.

  • Although the phrase “hearing loss” denotes diminished hearing acuity, a claimant without medical training might interpret extraneous sounds in the ear(s) or head (tinnitus) creating interference with normal hearing as “hearing loss.”  Because of this ambiguity, it is not clear that a claim phrased as being for “hearing loss” without further specific explanation, is intended to request adjudication only of hearing loss and not of tinnitus.
  • References to “hearing impairment” or even just “hearing” are also ambiguous as to whether they concern reduced hearing acuity only or tinnitus as well.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.2.b.Regulatory Definition of Impaired Hearing

Per 38 CFR 3.385, impaired hearing is considered a disability for VA purposes when
  • the auditory threshold in any of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, or 4000 Hertz (Hz) is 40 decibels or greater
  • the auditory thresholds for at least three of the frequencies 500, 1000, 2000, 3000, or 4000 Hz are 26 decibels or greater, or
  • speech recognition scores using the Maryland Consonant-Vowel Nucleus-Consonant (CNC) Test are less than 94 percent.
Reference:  For more information on the impact of changes in audiological testing methods, see M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.2.c.

III.iv.4.D.2.c.  Changes in Audiological Testing Methods

Equipment and testing standards for hearing loss have undergone past changes.
  • Audiometry results from before 1969 may have been in American Standards Association (ASA) units.
  • Current testing standards are set by the International Standards Organization (ISO) /American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
  • Test results should indicate the standard for the audiometry, but
    • if a military audiogram was performed prior to 1969 and does not specifically state it was conducted according to ISO/ANSI standards, assume the results are ASA, and
    • unless otherwise specified, assume audiograms performed from 1969 and later were conducted according to ISO or ANSI standards.
  • Veterans Health Administration (VHA) examinations for compensation purposes routinely converted ISO/ANSI results to ASA units until the end of 1975 because the regulatory standard for evaluating hearing loss was not changed to require ISO/ANSI units until September 9, 1975.
  • In order to facilitate data comparison for VA purposes under 38 CFR 3.385, ASA standards noted in service treatment records (STRs) dated prior to 1969 must be converted to ISO/ANSI standards.
Important:
  • Be careful in determining whether older audiometry results show a disability under 38 CFR 3.385.  Results today may indicate a different level of impairment than in the past because of changed equipment standards.
  • If the audiometric results were reported in standards set forth by ASA, or the results date to a time when ASA units may have been used and you cannot determine what standards were used to obtain the readings, an audiologist opinion is necessary to interpret the results and convert any ASA test results to ISO/ANSI units for application of 38 CFR 3.385 in disability determinations.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.2.d.  Applying Past Versions of Hearing Loss Criteria

In some cases, it may be necessary to consider past legal criteria for evaluating hearing loss. Such cases may include
  • unresolved pending claims, and
  • claims where a past decision denying SC– or establishing an evaluation – for hearing loss must be revised due to clear and unmistakable error.
The document here contains all versions of hearing loss evaluation tables from Extension 8-B of the 1945 Schedule for Rating Disabilities to the amendment of 38 CFR 4.85(b), effective June 10, 1999.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.2.e.  Handling Changed Criteria or Testing Methods

If there is a change in evaluation criteria (including a required change in testing methods) and applying the current facts to the changed criteria would support a lower evaluation but there has not been an improvement in the degree of hearing loss (or tinnitus), the existing evaluation may not be reduced.
Reference:  For more information on preservation of disability ratings, see 38 CFR 3.951(a).

III.iv.4.D.2.f.  Modified Performance Intensity Function Testing

Per 38 CFR 4.85, Maryland CNC testing is required to evaluate speech discrimination for VA compensation purposes.  As a part of the Maryland CNC testing, when results are 92 percent or less following the preliminary administration of the test, a performance intensity function test must be performed.
Performance intensity function testing involves conducting three repetitions of speech recognition testing.
  • When an examination is performed by a VA or contract examiner, assume that the performance intensity function testing has been completed unless there is a clear indication to the contrary.
  • When private medical evidence is reviewed for rating purposes, if speech recognition scores are 92 percent or less, ensure that performance intensity function testing was conducted.  Indicators that performance intensity function testing was conducted include (but are not limited to)
    • findings of three repetitions of speech recognition testing, wherein the maximum score must be used, or
    • a treating provider’s notation that performance intensity function testing was performed along with a report of the maximum speech recognition score.

III.iv.4.D.2.g.  Evaluating Exceptional Patterns of Hearing Impairment

Consideration should be made as to whether current audiometric readings demonstrate an exceptional pattern of hearing impairment.  An exceptional pattern of hearing impairment is shown if
  • the puretone threshold at each of the four specified frequencies (1000, 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hz) is 55 decibels or more, or
  • the puretone threshold is 30 decibels or less at 1000 Hz and 70 decibels or more at 2000 Hz.
When an exceptional pattern of hearing impairment is shown, the rating activity will determine the Roman numeral designation for hearing impairment using either Table VI or VIA, in 38 CFR 4.85 (h), whichever results in the higher numeral.
Important:  When the puretone threshold is 30 decibels or less at 1000 Hz and 70 decibels or more at 2000 Hz, the Roman numeral obtained by using the appropriate table will be elevated to the next higher Roman numeral.
Reference:  For more information on evaluating hearing loss based on exceptional patterns of hearing impairment, see 38 CFR 4.86.

III.iv.4.D.2.h.  Evaluating Hearing Loss When Speech Discrimination Scores Are Not Appropriate or Cannot Be Obtained

When an examiner certifies that speech discrimination scores are not appropriate or cannot be obtained, typically indicated with a “cannot test (CNT)” designation on examination, in accordance with 38 CFR 4.85(c) use Table VIA in 38 CFR 4.85(h).
Example:  An examiner indicates that speech discrimination scores are not appropriate due to inconsistent results.

III.iv.4.D.2.i.  Using VBMS-R Decision Tools in Hearing Impairment Claims

The Veterans Benefits Management System – Rating (VBMS-R) includes embedded calculators for hearing loss and tinnitus and ear diseases to help decision makers assign correct evaluations and generate required narrative explanation.  The calculator output is placed in the rating Narrative.
For the purpose of assigning a disability percentage for hearing loss always enter air conduction results into the hearing loss calculator.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.2.j.  Audiometric Values Above 105 Decibels

If audiometric testing results contain a value above 105 decibels, enter the value into the hearing loss calculator at no higher than 105 decibels for the purpose of determining the puretone threshold average as directed by VA’s Handbook of Standard Procedures and Best Practices for Audiology Compensation and Pension Examinations.
Example:  Findings of loss of 115 decibels at the 4000 Hz frequency level will be entered as 105 decibels into the hearing loss calculator.

III.iv.4.D.2.k.  Bone Conduction Results

The Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Disability Benefits Questionnaire specifies when examiners will measure bone conduction results.
Bone conduction is used for diagnostic purposes only.  Do not enter it into the hearing loss calculator regardless of the type of hearing loss and regardless of whether the evidence may contain an examiner’s comment that bone conduction results are a better indicator of a particular individual’s hearing loss.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.2.l.  Hearing Impairment Due to Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s Disease is characterized by episodic attacks with subsequent subsiding of symptoms following the attack.  A Veteran may be totally deaf during the attack with return to normal hearing when the attack ends.  Therefore, in evaluating hearing impairment under 38 CFR 4.87, diagnostic code (DC) 6205, the puretone thresholds or speech discrimination percentages are not required to meet the provisions of 38 CFR 3.385 as hearing impairment associated with Meniere’s Disease is often transient.
Important:  In some cases, hearing loss may not recede following an attack of Meniere’s Disease and instead results in a permanent loss of hearing that meets the definition of hearing impairment under 38 CFR 3.385.  In such circumstances, award benefits under the DC that results in the highest percentage for the Veteran.
Reference:  For more information on evaluating Meniere’s Disease, see M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.4.d and e.

III.iv.4.D.2.m.  Compensation Payable for Paired Organs Under 38 CFR 3.383

Even if only one ear is service-connected (SC), compensation may be payable under 38 CFR 3.383 for the other ear, as if SC, if the Veteran’s hearing impairment
  • is compensable to a degree of 10 percent or more in the SC ear, and
  • meets the provisions of 38 CFR 3.385 in the nonservice-connected (NSC) ear.
Important:  When the above entitling criteria do not apply for the NSC ear, the hearing in the NSC ear should be considered normal for purposes of computing the SC disability rating.
Reference:  For more information on compensation payable for paired SC and NSC organs, see

III.iv.4.D.2.n.  Earlier Effective Date of Increase for Hearing Loss

Assignment of effective date in claims for increased evaluation for hearing loss is controlled by 38 CFR 3.400(o).
  • 38 CFR 4.85 pertaining to evaluation of hearing impairment does not control the effective date of a claim for increased evaluation.
  • An increased evaluation for hearing loss may be assigned from a date prior to the date the Veteran received a VA audiological examination when evidence dated prior to the examination demonstrates that an increase in disability actually occurred, and the hearing loss demonstrated prior to the date of the examination is consistent with the findings shown by the examination.
Note:  This will generally require a medical opinion indicating that evidence prior to the date of the examination is consistent with the results of the later, compliant VA examination upon which that increase was shown.
References:  For more information on effective dates for

III.iv.4.D.2.o.  Determining the Need for Reexamination

Use the table below to determine whether reexamination is necessary.
Note:  A single examination is often sufficient to meet the qualifying conditions of permanence under 38 CFR 3.327.
If …
Then …
the extent of hearing loss in an individual claim has been satisfactorily established by an examination
do not routinely schedule reexamination.
the Veteran has hearing loss evaluated 100 percent under 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6100 with a numeric designation of XI & XI
  • permanency can be conceded, and
  • SMC awarded unless extenuating circumstances are present.
Note:  If hearing loss is functional, such as psychogenic, schedule at least one future examination to ensure that permanency is established before awarding SMC.
there is evidence that the hearing loss is likely to improve materially in the future
  • schedule a reexamination, and
  • include justification for such reexamination in the Reasons for Decision part of the rating decision.
the Veteran has had middle ear surgery
  • consider that hearing acuity will have reached a stable level one year after surgery, and
  • schedule reexamination for one year after such surgery under38 CFR 3.327.

3.  Tinnitus


Introduction

This topic contains general information about tinnitus, including

Change Date

April 9, 2019

III.iv.4.D.3.a.  Sympathetic Reading of Tinnitus Claims

In cases where only tinnitus is claimed but the evidence shows the presence of hearing loss that may be related to an in-service event or injury or due to some other SC condition, solicit a claim for SC for hearing loss.
If, upon solicitation, a claimant submits a claim for SC for hearing loss and the evidence of record supports SC, use the date the claim for SC for hearing loss was received for effective date purposes.
Similarly, where only tinnitus is claimed but SC has been previously granted for hearing loss, and the evidence of record shows that the hearing loss may have worsened, solicit a claim for reevaluation of hearing loss.  For effective date purposes the date of claim will be the date of filing after solicitation, not the date of claim for tinnitus.
By contrast to the guidance in M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.2.a, a claim for SC that is phrased as being for “tinnitus” generally should not be interpreted as raising a claim for SC (or an increased evaluation) for hearing loss.
This is because tinnitus has a specific definition (a subjectively perceived sound in one ear, both ears, or in the head) so a claim asserting that specific condition is generally unambiguous.
Important:  Although claims for SC for tinnitus are not automatically or routinelygoing to raise an additional claim for SC for hearing loss, rarely there may be ambiguities that will require consideration of a claim for hearing loss in circumstances parallel to those addressed in M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.2.a.
Example:  An original claim describes the disability claimed only as “tinnitus.”  However, a statement submitted in connection with the claim reads “ringing in the ears (tinnitus); problems understanding what people are saying since tanker duty in service.”  The additional statement is reasonably read as meaning that the Veteran’s claim for benefits is also premised on problems hearing since service..
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.3.b.  Requesting Medical Opinions for Tinnitus

A medical opinion is not required to establish direct SC for claimed tinnitus if
  • STRs document the original complaints and/or diagnosis of tinnitus
  • there is current medical evidence of a diagnosis of tinnitus or the Veteran competently and credibly reports current tinnitus, and
  • the Veteran claims continuity of tinnitus since service or there are records or other competent and credible evidence of continuity of tinnitus diagnosis or symptomatology.
Exception:  An opinion may be necessary in the fact pattern above if evidence suggests a superseding post-service cause of current tinnitus.
A tinnitus examination may also be necessary if the STRs do not document tinnitus but
  • there is evidence establishing noise exposure or another in-service event, injury, or disease (for example ear infections, use of ototoxic medication, head injury, barotrauma, or other tympanic trauma) that is medically accepted as a potential cause of tinnitus, and
  • there is a competent diagnosis or competent report of current tinnitus.
Notes:
  • A diagnosis of tinnitus is a medical determination; a layperson is not competent to render a diagnosis without appropriate medical training and/or background.  A layperson is competent to testify to what he/she experiences or perceives – namely the perception of sounds in his/her own ear(s) or head.  Accordingly, this is lay testimony and therefore is NOT sufficient, in and of itself, to establish a medically-confirmed diagnosis of tinnitus for the purposes of awarding SC.  However, consider credibility and weight of the evidence in deciding whether to accept lay testimony as evidence of an event, injury, or disease in service or a present disability.
  • The Hearing Loss and Tinnitus Disability Benefits Questionnaire tinnitus-only examination includes a number of options for examiner opinions on etiology.  The examination may be conducted by an audiologist or non-audiologist clinician.
  • Only ask the audiologist to offer an opinion about the association to hearing loss if hearing loss is concurrently claimed or already SC.
  • Give consideration to relevant lay evidence describing in-service complaints, a current disability, and/or a link between an in-service event and a current disability.
Example:  A Veteran submits a claim for tinnitus six years after discharge. STRs show one instance of tinnitus.  The Veteran did not submit a lay statement of continuity.  There is no post service medical evidence of continuity concerning tinnitus or tinnitus symptoms.
An examination and medical opinion are needed.
  • Though tinnitus is a condition listed under 38 CFR 3.309(a), it is sometimes acute and transitory.  In most cases, the cause of tinnitus is unknown.  Tinnitus can be associated with hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, ear disease, head injury (traumatic brain injury), cerebrovascular disease, tumors, certain medications, and many other medical conditions.
  • In accordance with 38 CFR 3.303(b), continuity of symptomatology is required when the condition noted during service is not, in fact, shown to be chronic or where chronicity may be legitimately questioned.  When the fact of chronicity in service is not adequately supported, then a showing of continuity after discharge is required to support the claim.  Because the chronicity in this example is not adequately supported, granting this claim without an examination would be premature.
  • Adversely, because the threshold for ordering an audiological examination is very low, denying this claim without an examination would be inappropriate.  For this example, an examination and medical opinion must be ordered.
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.3.c.  Interpreting Medical Opinions Involving Tinnitus

Use the table below when considering an examiner’s medical opinion in a case involving tinnitus.
If …
Then …
the examiner states tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss
  • evaluate tinnitus separately under 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6260 if the hearing loss is determined to be SC, and
  • establish SC for tinnitus on a direct, not secondary, basis.
Notes:
  • If the hearing loss is SC, and the tinnitus is a symptom of the hearing loss, we concede that the hearing loss and tinnitus result from the same etiology. Therefore, SC is warranted for tinnitus on a direct basis in these cases.
  • Under 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6260, a single 10-percent disability evaluation should be assigned for tinnitus, regardless of whether tinnitus is perceived as unilateral, bilateral, or in the head. Separate evaluations for tinnitus for each ear cannot be assigned.
  • the examiner
    • states tinnitus is not related to hearing loss, or
    • is unable to determine the etiology within reasonable certainty, or
  • there is no hearing loss
determine, based on all the evidence of record, whether or not the etiology of tinnitus requires further assessment by one of more additional examinations.
Note:  The type and need for any additional examination(s) will depend on the Veteran’s claim as to the cause of tinnitus.
Examples:
  • If the Veteran claims tinnitus due to hearing loss, and the examiner says they are not related, no further action is needed.
  • If Veteran claims tinnitus due to another condition (such as head injury, hypertension, and so on, which would be outside the scope of the audiologist), it might be appropriate to request
    • a general medical, ears/nose/throat (ENT), or other examination, and
    • an opinion as to the causation of tinnitus.
the examiner states that tinnitus is related to noise exposure or an event, injury, or illness in service
  • evaluate all the evidence of record
  • determine if the examiner’s opinion is consistent with the evidence, and
If …
Then …
the examiner’s opinion is consistent with the evidence of record
award SC on a direct basis.
  • the examiner’s opinion is not consistent with the evidence of record, and
  • the evidence VA provided to the examiner was incorrect or insufficient
  • return the exam for clarification, and
  • provide the examiner with all necessary information.
Note:  When the corrected exam is received, consider the opinion together with all other evidence of record to determine if SC is warranted.
  • the examiner’s opinion is not consistent with the evidence of record, and
  • the information the Veteran provided to the examiner was also inconsistent with the record
consider the opinion together with all other evidence of record to determine whether SC is warranted.
 
References:  For more information on

III.iv.4.D.3.d.  Applying Liberalizing Provisions for Tinnitus

38 CFR 4.87, DC 6260 was revised effective June 10, 1999.  In the standard for a 10-percent evaluation for tinnitus, the change substituted the word “recurrent” for “persistent.”  It also deleted language indicating that compensable tinnitus must be a manifestation of “head injury, concussion, or acoustic trauma.”
The regulatory revision to this DC was liberalizing.  Therefore the provisions of 38 CFR 3.114(a) are applicable when assigning an effective date.
Reference:  For more information on assigning effective dates based on liberalizing changes in law, see M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 5.C.7.f.

 4.  Peripheral Vestibular and Other Ear Disorders


Introduction

This topic contains general information about peripheral vestibular and other ear disorders, including

Change Date

April 9, 2019

III.iv.4.D.4.a.  Definitions: Dizziness, Vertigo, Pre-syncope, and Disequilibrium

Dizziness is a sensation or perception of unsteadiness, imbalance, or potential unconsciousness.
Vertigo is a sensation of rotation or spinning movement – either the self or surrounding objects – when there is no actual movement.  Vertigo is best understood as a variety of dizziness where the feeling of unsteadiness or imbalance is due to the sense of spinning.
Presyncope is a feeling of losing consciousness or blacking out.  The termslightheadness and faintness are essentially synonymous although lightheadedness may also be used to describe a feeling of disconnectedness between the head and body rather than actual impending unconsciousness.
Disequilibrium means loss of equilibrium (balance, stability, physical orientation).  A disability causing disequilibrium is manifested by symptoms that fall under the umbrella of dizziness (including vertigo or presyncope).

III.iv.4.D.4.b.  SC of Vertigo

Vertigo is generally considered a symptom of another disability, such as a peripheral vestibular disorder or a brain disorder.  However SC can be granted for vertigo as provided in M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.N.1.e.

III.iv.4.D.4.c.  Peripheral Vestibular Disorders

38 CFR 4.87, DC 6204 provides 10-percent and 30-percent evaluations for peripheral vestibular disorders based on dizziness and/or staggering.
A note following the diagnostic criteria states “objective findings supporting thediagnosis of vestibular disequilibrium are required before a compensable evaluation can be assigned …” [Emphasis Added]
Important:  The note in the diagnostic criteria does not mean that the subjective perceptions that define dizziness must be objectively measured or observed for a 10-percent evaluation to be assigned.  It means that the diagnosis of the current chronic disorder manifested by vestibular disequilibrium must be supported by objective findings (or have been supported by such findings when the current disorder was SC).
Objective findings include quantitative testing such as electronystagmography (ENG) and auditory brainstem evoked response (ABR) but are not limited to such tests.  A variety of clinical examination maneuvers also are used to test for disequilibrium and positive results to examination maneuvers are also considered objective evidence in support of the diagnosis of vestibular disequilibrium.
The important consideration is whether the evidentiary record shows that objective examination results or other tests were cited in supported the diagnosis of the peripheral vestibular disorder manifested by disequilibrium.
Reference:  For more information on evaluating vertigo as a symptom of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the prohibition against evaluating vertigo separately from TBI, see M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.N.2.h.

III.iv.4.D.4.d.   Meniere’s Disease

Meniere’s Disease (endolymphatic hydrops) is to be rated
Use whichever approach results in a higher evaluation.  Do not separately assign an evaluation under 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6205 and a rating for hearing loss, tinnitus, or vertigo.
Reference:  For information on assessment of hearing impairment when evaluating Meniere’s Disease under 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6205, see M21-1, Part III, Subpart iv, 4.D.2.l.

III.iv.4.D.4.e.  Cerebellar Gait in Meniere’s Disease

The 60-percent and 100-percent criteria in 38 CFR 4.87, DC 6205 for Meniere’s Disease refer to cerebellar gait.
cerebellar gait is a wide-based gait with lateral veering, a slow, jerky and irregular cadence, variable stride length, variability of foot placement from step to step, postural adjustments and propensity to lose balance.  In the context of Meniere’s Disease the term alludes to staggering associated with vertigo.

III.iv.4.D.4.f.  Ear Infections

If the disease of one ear, such as chronic catarrhal otitis media or otosclerosis, is held as the result of service, the subsequent development of similar pathology in the other ear must be held due to the same cause if
  • the time element is not manifestly excessive, a few years at most, and
  • there has been no intercurrent infection to cause the additional disability.
Note:  If there is continuous SC infection of the upper respiratory tract, the time cited for the purpose of service connecting infection of the second ear should be extended indefinitely.
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