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Veterans Law

VA Disability Ratings for Vertigo

July 22, 2020
senior asian man leaning on wall with head covered by left hand due to vertigo

Vertigo Explained

Vertigo is a sensation of feeling dizzy and off balance.  Individuals with vertigo may feel as though the room is spinning when in the midst of a “spell.”  In severe cases, vertigo may also result in nausea, vomiting, and nystagmus (i.e., abnormal or jerking eye movements).  Symptoms can last anywhere from few minutes to a few hours or more.  It is important to note that vertigo is almost always a symptom of an underlying condition, oftentimes related to the inner ear.  Some of the most common causes include the following:

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) – Occurs when tiny calcium particles (i.e., canaliths) build up in the canals of the inner ear.  The inner ear functions to send signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity.  Therefore, if the particles are built up, the body does not recognize whether it is sitting, standing, or laying down.  BPPV is often triggered by specific changes in the position of your head.
  • Meniere’s disease – An inner ear condition thought to be caused by a build-up of fluid and changing pressure. It can cause episodes of vertigo along with tinnitus and hearing loss.
  • Vestibular neuritis or labyrinthitis – An inner ear problem usually related to a viral infection. The infection causes inflammation in the inner ear around nerves that are important for helping the body sense balance.

Other causes, unrelated to the inner ear, may include: head or neck injury, brain problems (e.g., stroke or tumor), certain medications, and migraine headaches.  Treatment for vertigo typically depends on what is causing the condition, and in many cases it may go away on its own.  However, in other cases treatment is necessary and may include:

  • Vestibular rehabilitation – Type of physical therapy aimed at helping strengthen the vestibular system (i.e., system that sends signals to the brain about head and body movements relative to gravity).
  • Canalith repositioning maneuvers – Series of specific head and body movements for BPPV. The movements are intended to move the calcium deposits out of the canal into an inner ear chamber in order to be absorbed by the body.
  • Medication – Medication may be provided to relieve associated symptoms such as nausea or motion sickness.
  • Surgery – In very few and severe cases, surgery may be required for vertigo.

Service Connection for Vertigo

To receive disability benefits, veterans must first apply for service connection.  In order to do so, veterans should submit an initial claim using VA Form 21-526.  When submitting a service connection claim for vertigo, veterans should also submit any evidence that is relevant to the claim.  For example, veterans who had a military occupational specialty (MOS) that caused regular exposure to loud engines, machinery, or gunfire should submit service personnel records detailing their work-related duties.

Veterans can also submit lay statements explaining how this exposure to loud noises may have caused an inner ear problem marked by symptoms of vertigo.  Overall, veterans will have to show the following elements of service connection: (1) a current diagnosis of vertigo; (2) evidence of an in-service event, injury, or illness; and (3) a medical nexus linking their current, diagnosed vertigo to the in-service occurrence.

How VA Rates Vertigo

After service connection is established, VA will assign a disability rating based on severity.  Determining a disability rating is an important part of the claims process as it impacts the amount of monthly compensation that a veteran receives.  Importantly, vertigo does not have its own diagnostic code, but it is generally rated under one of the following balance disorders:

Diagnostic Code 6204 – Peripheral Vestibular Disorders

Generally speaking, peripheral vestibular disorders are conditions that affect the ears’ ability to sense proper body balance.  The rating criteria are as follows:

  • 30% – dizziness and occasional staggering
  • 10% – occasional dizziness

It is important to note that objective findings supporting the diagnosis of vestibular disequilibrium (i.e., feeling off balance) are required before a compensable evaluation can be assigned under this diagnostic code.  This means that it is not enough for a veteran to simply report that they feel dizzy or off balance.  Instead, there must be firm medical evidence confirming such symptomatology.

Diagnostic Code 6205 – Meniere’s Disease/Syndrome

As mentioned above, Meniere’s disease often results in symptoms of vertigo.  The rating criteria for this code are as follows:

  • 100% – hearing impairment with attacks of vertigo and cerebellar gait (i.e., staggering) occurring more than once weekly, with or without tinnitus
  • 60% – hearing impairment with attacks of vertigo and cerebellar gait occurring from one to four times a month, with or without tinnitus
  • 30% – hearing impairment with vertigo less than once a month, with or without tinnitus
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