Service-connected sleep apnea

Service-connected sleep apnea

July 07, 2020

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Sleep apnea is a frequently overlooked potential service-related condition recognized by the VA. Sleep apnea causes the sufferer’s breathing to be interrupted while they sleep, and it can be serious. Besides loud snoring, the sufferer may also experience headaches, daytime sleepiness and difficulty concentrating.

There are three types of sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is caused by the muscles in the throat becoming relaxed and blocking the airway. Central sleep apnea is caused by the absence or confusion of signals from the brain to the muscles that control breathing. Some sufferers have Complex Sleep Apnea Syndrome, which is a mix of both obstructive and central sleep apnea. In order to apply for VA disability benefits for sleep apnea, the veteran must have had a sleep study done to confirm the diagnosis.

A service connection may not be difficult to establish. A direct connection could be established if there is found to be a link between a diagnosed case of sleep apnea and an event, injury or illness that occurred during military service. A secondary connection could be established if another service-related condition is causing or worsening sleep apnea. For example, it has been found that sometimes sleep apnea can be exacerbated by post-traumatic stress disorder.

The current disability ratings for sleep apnea are as follows:

  • 100 percent – chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention, the need for a tracheostomy, or cor pulmonale. Cor pulmonale is the enlargement or failure of the right side of the heart due to lung disease.
  • 50 percent – requires the use of a breathing assistance device, such as a CPAP machine.
  • 30 percent – persistent daytime hypersomnolence, which is excessive daytime sleepiness that is not helped by sufficient sleep.
  • 0 percent – asymptomatic but has a documented sleep disorder.

Some veterans with severe cases of sleep apnea could qualify for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU), even if the sleep apnea itself is not rated at 100 percent. As long as the symptoms and related effects of sleep apnea are bad enough to affect a veteran’s ability to get or keep a job, TDIU might be appropriate.

Legal Help for Veterans is a VA disability law firm focused on veterans. For more information on your potential sleep apnea disability claim contact Legal Help for Veterans at 1.800.693.4800.

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