Sleep Apnea VA Claims
Category: Veterans Disability Law
Individuals who serve in the military are entitled to compensation if they develop a disability as a result of their time in the service. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs handles the disability claim process and has a list of disabilities it recognizes as more likely to be service-connected. This includes a vast array of mental health issues, brain injuries, and physical conditions that disproportionately affect veterans. One of the more commonly claimed disabilities is sleep apnea.
What is Sleep Apnea?
The term “apnea” refers to a temporary pause in breathing. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which an individual has their sleep hindered or completely disrupted by a respiratory issue of some sort. This condition is characterized by loud snoring and feeling tired after a night’s sleep.
While some experience very mild symptoms of sleep apnea, others may wake up hundreds of times every night for various lengths of time. Prolonged interference with sleeping patterns can cause brain damage, mental health issues, and a multitude of other secondary conditions.
Typical symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Morning headaches
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Waking up with a dry mouth
- Interrupted breathing during sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty paying attention from sleep deprivation
If you believe that you have one or more of these symptoms and that they were caused by your time in the military, it may be beneficial to build a sleep apnea VA disability claim.
Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three variations of sleep apnea recognized by the VA:
- Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) — The most common form of sleep apnea caused by partial or complete blockage of the airways during sleep. When muscles in the throat relax, they can temporarily obstruct breathing and disrupt an individual’s rest.
- Central sleep apnea (CSA) — Typically more serious than OSA, occurs when the brain fails to send signals to muscles reminding them to breathe. There is no obstruction of the airway, but this can still cause individuals to wake up feeling as though they were suffocating. CSA can be caused by obesity, strokes, heart disorders, or cervical spine conditions.
- Mixed, or complex, sleep apnea — Any form of sleep apnea that is caused by some combination of CSA and OSA.
There are multiple breathing assistance devices available for those affected by sleep apnea, from small nasal appliances to continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machines. Treatment can drastically reduce the negative effects of mild to moderate sleep apnea.
How Common is Sleep Apnea?
The American Sleep Apnea Association estimates that around 22 million individuals in the U.S. experience problems with sleep apnea — a large portion of them living undiagnosed. In 2017, the Veterans Benefits Administration reported that the VA awarded 282,323 service-connected sleep apnea ratings. Many veterans are affected by sleep apnea as a result of mental health problems or physical injuries. Whether it be CSA, OSA, or complex sleep apnea, Veterans who developed some form of debilitating sleep apnea during their time in the military are entitled to compensation.
Sleep Apnea Secondary Conditions
The symptoms of sleep apnea can be very restrictive and harmful to a person’s life. In many cases, prolonged sleep apnea can cause other serious conditions, such as:
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Worsening of ADHD
If your service-connected sleep apnea leads to one or more of these conditions, you can make a case to increase the value of your VA disability rating for additional benefits.
Sleep Apnea as a Secondary Condition
Just as sleep apnea can contribute to the onset of other disabilities, it can also develop as a result of different primary conditions. Some of those conditions include:
- Neck injuries
- Facial injuries
- Allergic rhinitis
- Deviated septum
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Type 2 diabetes
If you are able to prove that the sleep apnea is service-connected, or that it is more probable than not that it was caused or aggravated by a primary condition, developing sleep apnea as a secondary condition may increase your VA rating.
Another condition that has a high level of comorbidity with sleep apnea is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD
One of the other commonly claimed VA-recognized disabilities is PTSD — a mental health disorder characterized by the resurgence of traumatic stimuli after an event has passed. Military veterans experience PTSD more often than many other groups due to the high volume of intense events that occur during combat or time in service. Although typically associated with flashbacks, PTSD can also include dreams, migraines, and fixation on traumatic events.
Two primary symptoms of PTSD are sleep deprivation and chronic stress, which are also very common in those with sleep apnea. Due to this overlap, sleep apnea and PTSD interact in ways that negatively affect individuals with both conditions. There is a positive correlation between the severity of PTSD and sleep apnea, meaning that the worse a person’s PTSD gets, the more extreme their apneic episodes will become. On the flip side, individuals who experience worsening sleep apnea will often experience more intense PTSD.
While both of these conditions interact with a multitude of other conditions as well, the takeaway message is that veterans who suffer from PTSD should get tested for sleep apnea. This can help with treatment purposes and qualify you for additional VA benefits.
VA Ratings for Disability
The VA is responsible for compensating veterans for disabilities earned during their time in the service. To determine how much money an individual will receive, they use a percentage-based rating system ranging from 0-100 using increments of 10 (0%, 10%, 20%, 30%…). VA ratings depend on the severity of a disability, which part of the body is affected, and how much of a hindrance the disability is to an individual’s daily duties.
VA Disability Rating for Sleep Apnea
The VA rates all cases individually, but usually follow a guide of qualifying conditions. The most documented VA percentages for sleep apnea are as follows:
- 0% — Sleep apnea with documented sleep disorder breathing that is currently asymptomatic. The symptoms have disappeared or are not severe enough to cause any issues.
- 30% — This rating is given when an individual experiences consistent hypersomnolence, or daytime sleepiness, as a result of sleep being interrupted.
- 50% —- Given in cases when the diagnosed individual requires the use of a CPAP machine.
- 100% — The max rating, awarded in cases when a tracheostomy is required, or when an individual experiences “chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention…” This rating implies that the individual cannot carry out daily activities.
It is important to note that VA disability ratings are decided based on a combination of all the conditions an individual is experiencing. If sleep apnea leads to other conditions or is the result of a different primary condition, an individual’s VA rating may be increased.
Filing a Sleep Apnea VA Claim
Similar to other disabilities, the most difficult part about filing a sleep apnea VA disability claim is proving that the condition is connected to military service time. Proving service connection and including as much proof as possible increases the chances of receiving VA benefits for your sleep apnea.
A majority of sleep apnea disability claims are denied due to changes in the VA’s eligibility criteria. To qualify for sleep apnea benefits, the VA needs evidence of three things:
- A sleep apnea diagnosis from a qualified medical professional that involves a sleep study.
- Proof that the sleep apnea began or became worse as a result of military service
- A nexus connecting the diagnosis to the time in service
These documents make up the bare minimum for a sleep apnea claim. Beyond them, raters must also take into account details about the following:
- Qualifying sleep apnea devices
- Required use of CPAP or other breathing assistance machines
- Progression of an individual’s sleep apnea over time
These extra aspects have caused the VA to be more stringent about which claims they approve.
A diagnosis of sleep apnea included in military records is very helpful to your case. However, most veterans aren’t diagnosed with sleep apnea until after they are out of the service.
Working with a VA Disability Lawyer
Although sleep apnea is a fairly common condition with the potential to be destructive to an individual’s well-being, the VA does not make it easy to receive compensation. Even with all the necessary evidence, it can be difficult to convince the VA that your sleep apnea developed as a direct result of your time in the military. The way in which information is structured and presented can make a significant difference.
VA disability lawyers can also help in cases where an appeal is needed. If the VA denies your original disability claim or assigns you a lower rating than you believe you deserve, a lawyer can help to appeal the claim and try again for a more favorable decision.
Tuley Law Office
The VA disability lawyers at Tuley Law have years of experience in answering questions on veterans disability sleep apnea claims. Our attorneys have the in-depth knowledge of the disability compensation system and the requirements that must be fulfilled. Legal guidance can be the difference between sustainable compensation and a claim denial. Contact a member of our team today.
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