Congratulations! Your Tinnitus is recognized by the VA as service-connected. But what can you claim next? Possibly a VA claim secondary to tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the MOST COMMON DISABILITY claimed by veterans – more than PTSD and TBI. In 2018, nearly 2 million veterans had service-connected Tinnitus, according to the VA. Veterans are at a higher risk of developing this disability because the line of duty exposes them to loud noises and traumatic events. But did you know that you could claim secondary conditions to Tinnitus?
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is mostly defined as ringing in the ears. But the American Tinnitus Association identifies several other sounds which can be heard by a patient like whooshing, hissing, buzzing, static/white noise, crickets, screeching, roaring, pulsing, ocean waves, dial tones, and sometimes music. Exposure to gun fires and explosions are the main causes of Tinnitus for veterans. Apart from this, there are studies correlating the onset of Tinnitus with psychological trauma.
Secondary Service Connections to Tinntius
Now that you got service-connected, you know there is no chance to get a higher rating for Tinnitus other than 10%. That is the highest and only rating you’re going to get for this disability. The next best thing to do is to file for another claim for a different primary condition OR file for a condition which you think is or can be linked to your service-connected Tinnitus.
Did you know that there are a few disabilities you can secondarily associate with Tinnitus?
Secondary Mental Health Claims
According to a study from the International Journal of Otolaryngology entitled: “The Correlation of the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory with Depression and Anxiety in Veterans with Tinnitus” (Volume 2015, Article ID 689375), 70% of Tinnitus patients may present psychiatric comorbidities. In the earlier section, it is emphasized that mental problems lead to Tinnitus; but there are also instances when the causal relation may be reversed.
Anxiety, depression, and even PTSD can also be consequences of Tinnitus. The negative emotional impact of having to bear with this disability frequently, if not daily, can develop into a psychological struggle.
Even for a civilian, it is easy to understand how Tinnitus patients can experience mental troubles. Imagine having to live with constant or intermittent sound rattling in your ear every day. Won’t you be depressed, frightened, or agitated?
To prove a secondary mental health connection, you need to:
- Get a diagnosis for your anxiety, depression, or PTSD, stating that your Tinnitus is comorbid with these mental health disabilities.
- Furnish a DBQ/Nexus with your doctor’s analysis on how your psychological problems are directly linked to your service-connected Tinnitus. You can’t fight your case with the VA with just a diagnosis. You will need to tie up your claims with each other.
Secondary Sleep Disabilities
It is not impossible to realize how a constant buzz in the ear can make a patient suffer from sleep disabilities. Veterans with insomnia and sleep apnea can move to claim secondary disability if their sleep disturbances are caused or aggravated by their Tinnitus.
A NeuroImage: Clinical journal concluded that patients with chronic Tinnitus had increased brain attention. Chronic Tinnitus taps the brain’s precuneus region more during episodes. The precuneus region is a part of the brain related to memory and recollection, perception, and affective responses. When this is activated, patients are more alert and sensitive to their surroundings and may find it difficult to sleep, eventually leading to insomnia. There is a strong BVA ruling granting service connection to insomnia secondary to Tinnitus.
Although a bit difficult to prove, sleep apnea can be linked as well to Tinnitus. Weight gain due to negative emotional reactions to ear buzzes can be claimed as a cause of a veteran’s sleep apnea. Likewise, obesity due to tinnitus medication may also serve as a potential basis.
In filing for secondary connection, you will need to establish that your insomnia and sleep apnea are direct results of the ringing in your ear. To do this, you must have:
- Clear diagnosis – either in-service or within one year after discharge.
- Sleep study to prove your sleep impairment.
- Prescribed CPAP for sleep apnea (equates to higher rating).
- DBQ and Nexus to link insomnia and sleep apnea to Tinnitus.
Secondary Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
If Tinnitus can cause psychological problems and mental alertness at the same time, it is not far off to conclude that it can eventually lead to debilitating exhaustion. In this case, veterans with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) can file for a secondary claim.
If you are a Gulf War veteran, this is an even better option for you because CFS is part of the presumptive disabilities for those who served in Southwest Asia with at least a 10% disability rating. Again, tinnitus’ lone rating is 10%, so you will automatically qualify for this presumptive service connection.
To win a tinnitus-related claim for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, you should get:
- A medical diagnosis for CFS.
- Nexus letter to link the diagnosis to your experience of having to bear with Tinnitus daily.
- OR if you are a Gulf War veteran, you will need your DD214 as proof of deployment.
Secondary Dizziness and Vertigo
Tinnitus, as a hearing disorder, can easily be linked to other ear-related disabilities, namely, dizziness and vertigo. It can be claimed under Diagnostic Code 6204: Peripheral Vestibular Disorders. The constant noise in the ear can disrupt a person’s sense of balance and motion.
If deemed with secondary service-connection, you may be rated at 30% if there’s relative difficulty in walking or maintaining balance. Other than that, occasional episodes of dizziness and vertigo are awarded 10% rating.
How to get secondarily service-connected for dizziness and vertigo?
- You must be medically diagnosed with any of these conditions.
- Secure a nexus letter from your doctor linking your Tinnitus to these ear balance and motion problems.
- Ask your friends or relatives for a buddy letter. Have them write about your dizzy and vertiginous experiences due to the ringing in your ears.
What’s next for my VA Claim?
You need to service-connect your Tinnitus first before filing for the above-discussed secondary claims. Don’t have this connection yet? Ring us now for help in getting a secondary service connection to Tinnitus! Hotline: (737) 241-9823
Or sign up directly for our Elite Program through this link!
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About the Author
VA Claims insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible Independent Medical Opinions & Nexus Statements (Medical Nexus Letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.