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Schedule for Rating Disabilities: Evaluation of Tinnitus

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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This document has been published in the Federal Register. Use the PDF linked in the document sidebar for the official electronic format.

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AGENCY:

Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION:

Final rule.

SUMMARY:

This document amends the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Schedule for Rating Disabilities to state more explicitly the method of evaluation of tinnitus under diagnostic code 6260 in the portion of the rating schedule that addresses evaluation of disabilities of the ear. The intended effect of this action is to codify current standard VA practice by stating that recurrent tinnitus will be assigned only a single 10-percent evaluation whether it is perceived in one ear, both ears, or somewhere in the head.

EFFECTIVE DATE:

This amendment is effective June 13, 2003.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Audrey Tomlinson, Medical Officer, Regulations Staff (211A), Compensation and Pension Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave., NW., Washington DC 20420, (202) 273-7215.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

On September 19, 2002, VA published in the Federal Register (67 FR 59033) a proposal to amend diagnostic code 6260 in 38 CFR 4.87, in order to codify current standard VA practice concerning the evaluation of tinnitus. It states that recurrent tinnitus will be assigned only a single ten-percent evaluation, whether it is perceived in one ear, both ears, or somewhere in the head. Interested persons were invited to submit written comments on or before November 18, 2002. We received two comments, one from the American Legion and one from a concerned individual.

One commenter felt that limiting tinnitus to a single ten-percent evaluation is arbitrary and inconsistent with other provisions of VA's Schedule for Rating Disabilities that deal with bilateral disabilities, such as those providing separate evaluations for each ear with hearing impairment. The same commenter felt that the proposed rule document offered no substantive rationale for maintaining the current assignment of a single evaluation for tinnitus, regardless of whether it is perceived in one or both ears.

We disagree. VA's Audiology and Speech Pathology Service recently wrote a booklet titled Hearing Impairment, an Independent Study Course for health care providers. The section on tinnitus states that the fact that most tinnitus appears to be coming from the ear led to a belief that tinnitus was generated in the inner ear, but this is not the case. It further states that damage in the inner ear may be a precursor for subjective tinnitus, but that subjective tinnitus is generated within the central auditory pathways. Comparing tinnitus, a central nervous condition, to hearing loss, a disability from damage to an organ of special sense (the ear) is not a valid comparison. We have made no change in response to this comment. Because over 200,000 veterans are currently rated for tinnitus under diagnostic code 6260 under Diseases of the Ear, for Start Printed Page 25823administrative efficiency, and because many are accustomed to looking in that section of the rating schedule, the current placement of tinnitus within the rating schedule will remain unchanged.

The SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of the proposed regulatory amendment explained that tinnitus is a single disability arising in the brain and that it consists of the perception of sound in the absence of an external stimulus. This definition applies whether the tinnitus is perceived in one ear, both ears, or somewhere undefined in the head. The commenter provided no information that would refute this medical explanation. The degree of disability, that is, the degree to which tinnitus impairs the veteran's earning capacity, is the same regardless of how the tinnitus is perceived. To rate each ear separately for this single disability would violate the prohibition on pyramiding, 38 CFR 4.14. Similarly, to rate each ear separately would be a violation of the principle of 38 CFR 4.25(b) that a “single disease entity” is to be given a single rating. A single evaluation for a single disability is appropriate. We have made no change based on this comment.

A second commenter suggested that we adopt measurable time and duration standards for the term “recurrent.” Because a substantive change to define the term “recurrent” is beyond the scope of this rulemaking, we have made no change based on this comment.

VA appreciates the comments submitted in response to the proposed rule. Based on the rationale stated in the proposed rule and in this document, the proposed rule is adopted without change.

Paperwork Reduction Act

This document contains no provisions constituting a collection of information under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501-3521).

Regulatory Flexibility Act

The Secretary hereby certifies that this regulatory amendment will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities as they are defined in the Regulatory Flexibility Act (RFA), 5 U.S.C. 601-612. The reason for this certification is that this amendment would not directly affect any small entities. Only VA beneficiaries could be directly affected. Therefore, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), this amendment is exempt from the initial and final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 and 604.

Executive Order 12866

This regulatory amendment has been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget under the provisions of Executive Order 12866, Regulatory Planning and Review, dated September 30, 1993.

Unfunded Mandates

The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act requires, at 2 U.S.C. 1532, that agencies prepare an assessment of anticipated costs and benefits before developing any rule that may result in an expenditure by State, local, or tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector of $100 million or more in any given year. This rule would have no consequential effect on State, local, or tribal governments.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance Numbers

The Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance program numbers are 64.104 and 64.109.

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List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 4

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Approved: April 14, 2003.

Anthony J. Principi,

Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

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For the reasons set out in the preamble,

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PART 4—SCHEDULE FOR RATING DISABILITIES

Subpart B—Disability Ratings

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1. The authority citation for part 4 continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1155, unless otherwise noted.

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2. In § 4.87, diagnostic code 6260 is revised to read as follows:

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Schedule of ratings—ear.

Diseases of the Ear

 Rating
*    *    *    *    *    
6260 Tinnitus, recurrent10

Note (1):

A separate evaluation for tinnitus may be combined with an evaluation under diagnostic codes 6100, 6200, 6204, or other diagnostic code, except when tinnitus supports an evaluation under one of those diagnostic codes.

Note (2):

Assign only a single evaluation for recurrent tinnitus, whether the sound is perceived in one ear, both ears, or in the head.

Note (3):

Do not evaluate objective tinnitus (in which the sound is audible to other people and has a definable cause that may or may not be pathologic) under this diagnostic code, but evaluate it as part of any underlying condition causing it.

(Authority: 38 U.S.C. 1155).

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[FR Doc. 03-12038 Filed 5-13-03; 8:45 am]

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