Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes periods of interrupted breathing several times a night while sleeping. Veterans who developed sleep apnea during their time in service or have a service connection for the condition after they return home may be eligible for disability benefits. If a Veteran developed sleep apnea during their service during the Persian Gulf War, it may be considered a presumptive service condition and would qualify for benefits. In order to qualify for benefits, a Veteran will need to establish a service connection by providing proof of the condition through medical records or a nexus option from a qualified medical professional.
Common Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
To diagnose sleep apnea, a sleep study will be ordered by your doctor to determine if you have the condition. Some common signs of sleep apnea are:
- Loud snoring
- Periods where you stop breathing during sleep and gasp for air
- Morning headache, dry mouth, and sore throat
- Trouble focusing or concentrating
- Lack of energy
Once a diagnosis is made, treatment often consists of using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine to help keep the airways open by delivering air constantly while you sleep. In severe cases of sleep apnea, surgery may be needed in addition to lifestyle changes.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can lead to serious complications and increase your risk of stroke, depression, high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes. In addition, the condition can make it difficult to work since you are overly tired throughout the day and cause you to be less productive and focused at work. Sleep apnea can also impact your daily life and increase symptoms of anxiety or depression, making it difficult to maintain personal relationships.
How the VA Rates Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can vary in type and severity. Once you receive a diagnosis and the condition is service-connected, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will award a rating based on the severity and type of sleep apnea. The VA rates the condition under 38 C.F.R. § 4.97-13, Diagnostic Code 6847.
The different types of sleep apnea are obstructive, central, or mixed sleep apnea. The ratings for the condition are:
- 0 percent rating is given for sleep apnea that has been documented, but the person is not showing symptoms.
- 30 percent rating is given if the person requires persistent daytime hypersomnolence or excessive sleepiness that does not improve with sleep or rest.
- 50 percent rating is given if the person requires the use of a breathing assistance device such as a CPAP.
- 100 percent rating is given for severe cases of sleep apnea with chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention, if the person requires a tracheostomy, or if there is enlargement or failure of the right side of the heart related to lung disease.
Receiving a Secondary Service Connection
In some cases, sleep apnea may be the result of a secondary service connection. To establish a link, the Veteran will need to prove that their sleep apnea was secondary to their direct service connection. Some conditions that are related to sleep apnea are type 2 diabetes, asthma, or chronic rhinitis. Sleep apnea can also result from taking certain medications.
Studies have suggested that those with PTSD are at an increased risk for sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. There is also a link between traumatic brain injuries and sleep apnea.
If a Veteran has an established service connection for PTSD and has a secondary-service connection for sleep apnea, they may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). If they qualify for TDIU, they can receive a 100 percent disability rating.
Contact a Veterans Benefits Attorney Today
If you are a Veteran with sleep apnea who needs help applying for benefits, contact the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law for a free, no-obligation consultation. We will work to protect your legal rights and help maximize the benefits you deserve. Call us today at 877-629-1712 or use our online contact form to find out more.