Veterans that are going in for a sleep study related to their VA disability application should read these tips before they go.
Did you recently submit an application to receive VA disability benefits for a sleep-related disorder or a respiratory condition?
If so, you may have been requested to participate in a VA sleep study.
These diagnostic studies are used to diagnose and provide greater detail into a patient’s specific condition. While they can take place in different locations and include different parameters, their goal is essentially the same: to monitor your sleep.
While the unknowns can seem a little unnerving, the process is actually fairly simple and straightforward. Today, we’re sharing a few of our top VA sleep study tips to help you prepare.
Veterans Going in for a Sleep Study:
- Service-Related Conditions That Can Affect Sleep
- Sleep Apnea VA Ratings
- Insomnia VA Disability Ratings
- Lung Disabilities Visible in a Sleep Study
- VA Sleep Study Tips: What to Expect
- Communicating With Your Sleep Specialist
- What to Expect in the Morning After a Sleep Study
- The Value of a VA Sleep Study
Service-Related Conditions That Can Affect Sleep
Do you always feel tired? Could you sleep for eight straight hours in a row and still wake up exhausted? If so, you’re not alone.
The prevalence of diagnosed sleep disorders is on the rise among U.S. veterans, with a growing percentage reporting that they suffer from at least one condition. In a recent study of nearly 10 million veterans, sleep apnea was found to be the most prevalent sleep disorder, with 47% experiencing the condition. Insomnia came in second at 26%.
In addition, veterans with cancer, cardiovascular disease, or other chronic conditions also reported elevated rates of sleep disorder diagnoses. To understand the full breadth of sleep disorders that affect veterans, you can visit our article on Sleep Disorder VA Benefits.
If you can prove that your condition is related to your time in the military service, the VA will award disability benefits on a direct, secondary, or presumptive basis. Even a secondary service-connected disability rating is better than nothing. When we look at your case, we know which approach is the best according to your medical conditions and military experiences.
Next, let’s take a look at two of the most common sleep conditions and how they’re rated.
Sleep Apnea VA Ratings
Sleep apnea is one of the most common sleep disorders in veterans. It occurs as one of three types:
- Obstructive: Muscles in your throat close up occasionally and block breathing during sleep
- Central: Affects your brain’s ability to transmit signals to your throat muscles
- Mixed: Exhibits symptoms of both obstructive and central sleep apnea
As you might imagine, it can be difficult for you to tell which type of sleep apnea you’re experiencing. Even your partner may not be able to accurately explain your symptoms.
This is where a sleep study comes in. During the study, your monitoring physicians will have an up-close look at exactly what’s happening while you sleep, so they can correctly identify your condition.
It’s important to understand that the VA will require a sleep study before you can receive a medical determination that you’re truly suffering from sleep apnea. Even receiving a CPAP machine from the VA is not evidence enough that you require disability benefits.
Sleep apnea is rated under federal code 38 C.F.R. § 4.97, Diagnostic Code 6847. Ratings are based on the severity of your condition and are tiered at 0%, 30%, 50%, and 100%.
In addition to the direct symptoms associated with sleep apnea, this condition is also identified as a secondary condition when an associated primary condition is present, such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Parkinson’s disease
If you can establish a service connection for any of the above conditions and you’re also having a hard time sleeping, your physician may recommend a sleep study to determine if sleep apnea is causing your symptoms.
Insomnia VA Disability Ratings
There are two recognized types of insomnia. These include:
- Acute insomnia: Bouts of insomnia that last for one month or less
- Chronic insomnia: Insomnia that occurs multiple times per week and lasts for at least one month
While there is no VA rating for insomnia, you may be able to receive VA disability benefits if you can prove a direct service connection. Before you can do so, your doctor must provide an actual medical diagnosis of insomnia. From there, you must be able to prove that your condition is linked to something that happened during your time in the military.
The VA can arrange for your to receive a medical exam to review your symptoms of insomnia. This exam is officially called a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam and will likely take place at a VA clinic. During this exam, the doctor will investigate your symptoms and try to determine the root cause of your insomnia.
Has your insomnia become so severe that you can no longer hold a job? If so, the VA could grant what’s known as Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU). If you get TDIU, you get the money equivalent of a 100% rating but you don’t have to have a full 100% rating.
Veterans who can’t hold down a steady job that supports them financially (known as substantially gainful employment) because of their service-connected disabilities are eligible for TDIU if they have:
- At least one service-connected disability rated at 60% or more disabling OR
- Two or more service-connected disabilities with at least one rated at 40% or more disabling and a combined rating of 70% or more
If your condition is not as severe, it’s more common to seek disability benefits for insomnia as a secondary service-related condition. For instance, you may experience acute or chronic insomnia as a result of any of the following:
- Chronic pain
Lung Disabilities Visible in a Sleep Study
If you suffer from a lung disability, your ability to breathe deeply and consistently during sleep could be impacted. Two of the most common ones include:
These each carry their own VA diagnostic code and rating system. If you’re experiencing insomnia and have already established a service connection for either disability, you could establish the sleep disorder as a secondary service-related condition. To learn more about how the VA rates various lung disabilities, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Veterans Disability Benefits for Lung Conditions.
VA Sleep Study Tips: What to Expect
Are you seeking to establish a service connection for your sleep-related disorder? Whether you want to create a direct or secondary connection, a VA sleep study will be critical. This is especially the case if your sleep symptoms last more than a few weeks.
If you’ve never been monitored overnight, you may be unsure of what to expect. Instead of frantically scanning the VA sleep study Reddit boards, it’s best to learn at much as possible about the process. This way, you can be more informed and less anxious about the procedure.
Where You’ll Go
First, let’s discuss where the sleep study will take place.
In most cases, you will be given the choice to take your sleep study in one of two places:
- A sleep clinic
- At home
It’s far more common to take your sleep study at a VA sleep study clinic or sleep lab that’s specially set up with the machines and procedures required. In fact, most of these studies are performed at these types of facilities.
If you choose to perform a VA sleep study at home or it’s deemed most appropriate for your case, you’ll still follow most of the procedures required for an on-site study. You’ll be loaned the equipment (including a special computer) to perform the study on your own, and you’ll be given clear instructions on how to use it. Sometimes, a sleep specialist will visit your home to explain how the equipment works.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Who Can Be There
Can your partner accompany you to a VA sleep study? What about another family member?
Much like a hotel room or a hospital room, you’ll have your own private room during your sleep study. You will usually be able to bring along a friend or family member to keep you company as you get situated. However, you’ll need to be alone during the study so they will have to leave before it begins.
What the Test Monitors
Also called a polysomnogram, an in-lab sleep study is designed to measure and monitor the following events while you sleep:
- Brain activity
- Eye movements
- Leg movements
- Changes in muscle tone
- Heart rate
- Oxygen levels
- Breathing efficiency
In addition to these internal logistics, you will also be videotaped while you sleep. During this time, a designated sleep technologist will watch your movements through a closed circuit television.
Will It Hurt?
In addition to the pressure of falling asleep amid watching eyes, you may be concerned about the actual VA sleep study process. How do they get all those monitoring wires on you and will the connections hurt?
This is a completely painless procedure that usually takes between 45 and 60 minutes. It does not involve the use of any needles and should not physically hurt in the slightest.
Worried about the risk of electrocution with all of the electrodes, wires and leads around your head and body? Don’t be.
There will not be any external electricity running throughout your body. These electrodes and leads are simply there to monitor your body’s electrical and physical signals but are not distributing electricity internally.
For your comfort, sleep clinics are usually set up more like hotel rooms than the sterile, stark hospital rooms you might expect. While you might not be able to sleep as well during your study as you would at home in your own bed, you shouldn’t be too uncomfortable. As long as you can enter into some form of sleep, the test can get a lot of information.
How to Prepare
On the actual day of your sleep study, it’s smart to prepare are much as possible. A few of the important steps you can take to help ensure the test is efficient and accurate include:
- Do not take naps
- Steer clear of caffeine
- Wash and dry your hair before coming to the lab (skip haircare products)
- Take medications on your usual schedule (unless directed otherwise)
- Bring any medications you might need with you
- Follow your regular diet (e.g. bring a nighttime snack if you’re used to one)
What to Bring
If you’re attending a sleep study at a sleep clinic or lab, you’ll need to know what to pack in your bag. To help make sure you feel as comfortable as possible, a few of the items to bring include:
- Any medication you might need
- Any snacks you prefer
- Comfortable sleep clothes
- Reading materials to help you fall asleep
- Basic toiletries (e.g. toothbrush and toothpaste)
- A clean change of clothes for the morning
Fueling up on energy drinks might be your normal routine, but that’s how to fail a VA sleep apnea test. Ease into the day and resist bringing along anything that could keep you awake.
Communicating With Your Sleep Specialist
Let’s address one of the most common questions: Will you be able to use the restroom in the middle of the night during your sleep study?
Yes. You will have around-the-clock access to a sleep technologist who will be available to help support you during your study. If you need assistance or have to awaken for any reason, you can communicate with the technologist and express those needs.
While connecting yourself to the equipment can be a little time-consuming, it’s relatively simple to disconnect the wires. Still, it’s always best to avoid drinking a substantial amount of liquid before you lie down.
What to Expect in the Morning After a Sleep Study
The morning after your VA sleep study, the technologist will remove all of your electrodes and sensors. While some of the glue from the leads may remain attached to your hair, removal is usually quick and easy.
Most of the time, it will take the sleep clinic a few weeks to process your VA sleep study results. Then, they will share this data with your physician, where it will be used to determine the presence of a true sleep disorder.
One of our VA disability lawyers goes over the Agent Orange Presumptive Conditions list in this video:
The Value of a VA Sleep Study
If you have any concern that you might be suffering from a service-related sleep disorder, participating in a VA sleep study is a smart decision.
This test can confirm the presence of sleep apnea, insomnia, and other conditions that could affect your VA disability benefits. These VA sleep study tips can help you get started and approach the process with comfort and confidence.
To learn more about your VA disability application or to ask any questions, feel free to contact our team today.
Most sleep studies are setup like a hotel rather than like a hospital room. Very few people can stay completely awake for a whole 8-10 hour sleep study. With that said, they can study your sleep even if you only give them 30 minutes worth to test. If you completely fail to fall asleep, that still gives them some results, but they may invite you back the following night to try again.
Not necessarily. The VA doesn’t give automatic VA disability for many reasons. Depending on how long you’ve had your CPAP, a sleep study may help build your case for a higher rating for sleep apnea or other sleep disabilities. Let’s talk about your records and to your doctor.