Posted byBerry LawonSeptember 2, 2022 inDisability Ratings
The VA assigns various disability ratings for conditions like sleep apnea and tinnitus. However, some of these conditions technically qualify as secondary conditions to each other. For example, sleep apnea can be rated as a secondary condition to a Veteran’s tinnitus.
A condition being rated as secondary rather than primary can affect its disability rating — which also affects the benefits a Veteran may expect.
Today, let’s break down the VA disability rating for sleep apnea secondary to tinnitus. By the end, you’ll know what to expect when you try to secure benefits for this condition.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by one’s breathing stopping and starting during sleep. It’s much more severe than typical snoring and can involve serious health risks, so it should not be considered “minor” or unimportant.
The three major types of sleep apnea include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea is most common and occurs when your throat muscles relax.
- Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain doesn’t send the right signals to breathing muscles, preventing you from breathing consistently.
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome can occur if an individual has both central and obstructive sleep apnea.
In each of these cases, interrupted breathing can cause sleep quality to decline sharply. It can also lead to intense snoring and even, according to some research, cause tinnitus.
Because snoring intensely due to sleep apnea can be very loud, the condition can also cause gradual hearing damage in those who suffer from it.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a condition caused by hearing loss, ear injuries, or even issues with a person’s circulatory system.
Tinnitus is commonly experienced by Veterans due to their exposure to loud noises during active duty service. In a nutshell, tinnitus is a condition characterized by consistent ringing or other noises in either one or both ears.
Unfortunately, tinnitus is very common, affecting between 15% and 20% of all people. It’s especially common in older adults and Veterans. Tinnitus can be a major impediment to people’s quality of life, leading to mental health problems like anxiety, depression, and difficulty concentrating and communicating.
Can Tinnitus Cause Sleep Apnea or Vice Versa?
Yes, though the exact cause and link are not fully understood. For example, one study indicated that there is a large connection between chronic tinnitus and the severity of sleep disturbances like sleep apnea.
In that study, approximately 80% of military personnel diagnosed with tinnitus also had noise-induced permanent hearing loss, as well as sleep apnea. According to the study’s sleep questionnaire, Veterans had more sleep disturbance compared to average individuals, causing morning fatigue, chronic fatigue, disruptive wakeups, and other secondary symptoms.
Although experts don’t yet know exactly why the two are correlated, sleep apnea may have a causal connection to tinnitus. For instance, if a Veteran has sleep apnea and is vulnerable to tinnitus due to hearing damage, their sleep apnea could exacerbate the condition and lead to full-on tinnitus over time.
In cases like this, Veterans may wish to link their sleep apnea to tinnitus to secure additional VA disability benefits.
Proving a Link Between Tinnitus and Secondary Conditions
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to receive a secondary service connection for secondary conditions like sleep apnea from the VA.
This is because many Veterans don’t know that they have sleep apnea in the first place. They could think that they just snore loudly, or they could wake up in the morning not remembering that they woke up multiple times in the middle of the night.
Furthermore, it’s still unclear exactly how tinnitus may cause sleep apnea or vice versa. That said, it is possible to receive a secondary service connection for tinnitus and secondary conditions like sleep apnea with the right documentation.
Essentially, a Veteran must provide evidence that links their service-connected tinnitus to the secondary condition. This means:
- Getting an official medical diagnosis of both tinnitus and sleep apnea. This can be accomplished with a medical note from a licensed medical practitioner.
- Proving that the secondary condition — sleep apnea — is either a result of or aggravated by the first condition — tinnitus.
For example, a Veteran may claim that their sleep apnea has been aggravated by tinnitus because:
- The tinnitus prevents them from waking up when they make noise, forcing their sleep quality to be worse.
- Their sleep apnea seems worse and more disruptive due to the constant ringing in their ears from tinnitus.
Acquiring this evidence can be a little tricky. A Veteran can seek out an official medical opinion from a licensed medical practitioner. Alternately, they can keep a detailed journal and record each time they wake up, as well as any symptoms they experience.
If the Veteran lives with someone like a child, spouse, or even roommate, they could have that person write a letter attesting to their symptoms and the severity of their sleep apnea. All of this can help make a major difference when applying for benefits.
To secure the best results and get the disability benefits you deserve, you should contact experienced Veterans law attorneys right away. The right law firm can offer support by:
- Helping you gather the evidence you need for your claim to succeed
- Explaining how the disability benefits application process works
- Helping you file your benefits application correctly and on time
- Helping you navigate the appeals process if your benefits claim is denied initially
- And more
VA Ratings for Sleep Apnea
The VA rates and evaluates sleep apnea under Diagnostic Code 6847, also called sleep apnea syndromes. The VA rates sleep apnea based on its severity and symptoms from 0% to 100%.
A 0% rating qualifies the Veteran for no disability benefits, although other standard benefits like healthcare may be available. A rating of 100% allows a Veteran to claim total disability and receive the highest potential amount of monthly compensation.
- A rating of 0% is given for asymptomatic sleep apnea or documented sleep-disordered breathing.
- A rating of 30% is given to Veterans who experience persistent daytime hypersomnolence.
- A rating of 50% is given to Veterans who have to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine or other breathing assistance device.
- A rating of 100% is only given to Veterans who experience chronic respiratory failure with “carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonare” or Veterans who require a tracheostomy.
In the last case, a Veteran may retain their 100% disability rating for some time after their tracheostomy procedure while they recover. After the procedure, they will eventually have to attend a C&P exam to see how their symptoms have progressed before receiving a new disability rating.
What Benefits Could You Receive if You Have Sleep Apnea?
According to the recent VA disability rate benefit adjustment of December 1, 2021, Veterans with sleep apnea connected to tinnitus could receive benefits at the following rates:
- A 30% rating yields $467.39 per month.
- A 50% rating yields $958.44 per month.
- A 100% rating yields $3332.06 per month.
In addition, any Veteran with a disability rating of 30% or higher will qualify for extra compensation if they have dependent parents, dependent children, or a spouse also living in the home with them. This is intended to compensate the Veteran’s family for the discomfort and sleep disruption they potentially experience due to sleep apnea.
If you believe your sleep apnea is due to your tinnitus or vice versa, you may be able to see an increase in your disability benefits. However, it can be difficult to gather the right evidence and file a successful claim by yourself.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Instead, you can contact Berry Law for a free consultation and case evaluation.
We are experienced Veterans law attorneys who are standing by to help you connect your sleep apnea to your tinnitus as a secondary condition. We can help you through the benefits application process and, if needed, through the benefits appeals process as well.
Contact Berry Law today to get started!
Sleep Disturbance Associated With Chronic Tinnitus | National Library of Medicine
What is Sleep Apnea? | Sleepapnea.org
Tinnitus: Causes, Cures, Treatment, and Definition | Cleveland Clinic
38 CFR § 4.97 — Schedule of Ratings — Respiratory System | Cornell Law School Legal Information Institute
2022 Veterans Disability Compensation Rates | Veterans Affairs