What kind of VA disability rating is possible for sleep apnea? This is a condition that, like all other VA-compensated disabilities, must have an established connection to military service in order to get an award for VA disability compensation.
Service-connected medical issues including sleep apnea may be deemed to be directly caused by military service, there may be a “presumptive” condition that includes sleep apnea, or you may experience sleep apnea as a secondary condition associated with some other VA rated issue.
The key is to understand how the VA defines sleep apnea, and under what conditions it may justify a VA disability percentage rating.
Sleep Apnea Basics
In general, sleep apnea is medically defined as a sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts, which can result in feeling tired even after a full night’s sleep. There are three basic types of sleep apnea recognized by medical authorities including the Mayo Clinic. These include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Central sleep apnea
- Complex sleep apnea syndrome (which includes symptoms of both the other types above)
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common form of the problem, which occurs during sleep when the throat muscles relax and cause snoring, which can be disruptive to sleep patterns overall.
Central sleep apnea is a problem that involves the brain not sending the right signals during sleep to control breathing. Complex sleep apnea combines symptoms of the other two versions of the condition and is generally the more severe form.
To treat sleep apnea, a sleep study is usually required to properly diagnose the problem, and the use of external equipment known as a CPAP machine. CPAP, also known as a continuous airway pressure machine, helps keep the airway open during sleep to prevent sleep disturbances caused by sleep apnea.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
How do you know if you have a potential problem in this area? There are multiple symptoms to pay attention to. Remember that not all symptoms are automatically an indication of a medical problem, but they are worth paying attention to for future reference if you have some of the more benign types.
Don’t forget the power of a spouse, partner, roommate, or other housemates to give you information that could help your decision making about addressing this issue–if someone else tells you that you’ve been snoring or experiencing other sleep disturbances, take such reports seriously and consider having those observations committed to writing for your future claim’s sake.
Symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Interrupted or stopped breathing during sleep
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Insomnia or difficulty remaining asleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness, AKA hypersomnia
- Difficulty paying attention due to sleep deprivation
- Irritability due to insomnia or lost sleep
How The VA Rates Sleep Apnea
There are several categories under which sleep apnea may be defined during a VA review of your health to determine what conditions you may have and which are considered by the VA to be service-connected. They include:
- Conditions that require a tracheostomy due to “chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention” or “cor pulmonale”
- Conditions that require the use of a breathing assistance device such as a CPAP machine
- Persistent day-time hypersomnolence
- Asymptomatic but with documented sleep disorder-type breathing
These ratings range from 100% disability (possible in cases where a chronic respiratory failure is documented) all the way down to 0% (possible in cases where the patient is asymptomatic but with documented sleep disorder breathing).
The breakdown is as follows–remember that the VA rates all such cases individually but using a guide to qualifying conditions that include:
- 100 percent VA rating: awarded in cases of “chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonare, or; requires tracheostomy”
- 50 percent rating: awarded in cases where the use of a CPAP machine is required
- 30 percent rating: awarded for persistent day-time “hypersomnolence”
- 0 percent rating: awarded for asymptomatic sleep apnea with documented sleep disorder breathing
Sleep Apnea And Military Service Connections
The key in getting a VA disability rating for sleep apnea involves establishing that military service caused the problem.
But in cases where you may not be able to establish a direct link between military service and the condition it may be possible that it is due to the effects of a different service-connected medical issue.
For example, PTSD is said to aggravate sleep disorders or introduce them; veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome or other Gulf War-related conditions may also suffer from sleep apnea as a result.
How do you establish that sleep apnea is service-connected? If the first appearance of the problem occurs in your military medical records as opposed to being a pre-existing condition, that may be a step toward a VA disability rating.
Any military member experiencing sleep disorders should, in anticipation of needing this data at a later date, request a sleep study to be done in a military medical facility where possible to establish whether or not there is a service connection to the sleep issues.
You can also see a civilian medical provider to get supporting documentation of a service-connection for sleep apnea. The key will be having as much of the issue medically documented while still serving as possible and getting supporting medical opinions in addition to whatever treatment or study of your sleep issues happen while you are still serving.
If your sleep apnea is a recent development (even if it was not present or perceived to be present during your military service) it is still important to get the sleep study, have your results evaluated, and get supporting documentation to help your claim. It’s best to use both VA and military healthcare options AND any supporting evidence from private or civilian healthcare sources.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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