Sleep apnea is a condition that causes your breathing to stop repeatedly while you sleep. This sleep disorder is often connected to another health condition, and may also cause or worsen additional conditions. If you’re a veteran diagnosed with sleep apnea, understanding the sleep apnea VA rating can help you get the disability compensation you deserve.
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You are in bed for nine hours or more every night, but you still always feel tired the next day. You mentioned it to your doctor during a recent visit, participated in a sleep study, and were diagnosed with sleep apnea. The doctor said your sleep apnea was caused by another health condition from your military service, meaning you may be able to service connect your sleep apnea as well. This post further explains the VA disability rating for sleep apnea and how the disorder is bi-directionally related to many other health conditions.
In this article about VA benefits for sleep apnea:
- What is sleep apnea?
- Sleep apnea in veterans
- VA rating for sleep apnea
- Sleep apnea and PTSD
- Sleep apnea and obesity
- Sleep apnea and sinusitis, rhinitis
- Sleep apnea and substance abuse
- Sleep apnea and other commonly-related conditions
- TDIU for sleep apnea
- Woods and Woods can help
What is sleep apnea?
Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops while a person is sleeping. It makes them feel constantly tired because their sleep is repeatedly interrupted. The ongoing lack of sleep often affects the person’s ability to function well in their daily life.
Other symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Excessive sleepiness and fatigue
- Loud breathing
- Dry mouth or throat
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
Age and obesity are risk factors for sleep apnea. The disorder also is more common in men.
Treatment for the sleep disorder could include weight loss or use of devices such as wearing a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) or Bilevel Positive Airway Pressure (BiPAP) machine at night to ensure adequate oxygen flow.
If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in other health issues and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Sleep apnea in veterans
Sleep apnea is a common problem for veterans. More than half of veterans in one study tested positive for sleep apnea and did not report having a diagnosis of the condition. An estimated 22% of the general population experiences the disorder, showing that it may be more common in those with military service in their background.
The exact cause of the relationship between military service and sleep apnea is unknown. However, some researchers think the stressors veterans experience during military service are a factor in its development.
It helps that doctors are better at recognizing sleep apnea today. The relationship between sleep apnea and many other conditions is also better documented. “Over the past decade, the VA has seen a spike in claims for sleep apnea. Now that there’s a greater awareness of this condition, veterans who are previously untreated are getting diagnosed and getting the treatment that they need for it,” said VA disability lawyer Krystal Lechner.
VA rating for sleep apnea
The VA rates sleep apnea with diagnostic code 6847 for Sleep Apnea Syndromes (Obstructive, Central, Mixed) in the Schedule of Ratings. It can rate up to 100%, or as low as 0%. A 0% rating means the VA acknowledges the condition is related to your military service, but does not consider it disabling enough for you to receive compensation.
Ratings and compensation for sleep apnea
|Description||VA rating||Monthly payment (veteran only)|
|Chronic respiratory failure||100%||$3,621.95|
|Requires use of a CPAP machine or other breathing device||50%||$1,041.82|
|Chronic daytime sleepiness||30%||$508.05|
A doctor likely will require you to participate in a sleep study if they think you have sleep apnea. Sleep studies are how they diagnose the condition. If asked to do such a study, you’ll want to follow these sleep study tips.
Sleep apnea can be secondarily service connected to various medical issues. Sleep apnea may also cause you to develop other health conditions. We share some examples below.
Sleep apnea and PTSD
As previously mentioned, some researchers believe trauma and stressors from service may be the main reason military service members develop sleep apnea. There is a known link between sleep apnea and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the most commonly compensated mental health condition among veterans. People with both disorders are likely to experience worse PTSD symptoms as a result of their sleep problems. Sleep apnea affects about 17% to 22% of the general population, but research suggests is higher among people with PTSD.
Sleep apnea and obesity
Obesity, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension are all considered some of the strongest risk factors for developing sleep apnea. Sleep apnea can make people tired, causing them to get less exercise, which can lead to obesity. Diabetes and hypertension are also commonly linked to obesity. Excess body weight in an obese person can put extra pressure on a person’s upper airways, causing damage and complications over time and leading to sleep apnea. Therefore, many veterans may be eligible for ratings for VA disability compensation for their sleep apnea if they have service-connected diabetes or hypertension.
Sleep apnea and sinusitis, rhinitis
Sleep apnea is known to be connected with nasal allergy conditions, including chronic sinusitis and rhinitis.
Sinusitis is an inflammation in the lining inside the sinuses. It can be severe and ongoing. Veterans with obstructive sleep apnea have a heightened risk of chronic sinusitis. Sinusitis can aggravate obstructive sleep apnea and vice-versa. For this reason, veterans may receive a VA sinusitis rating and a VA sleep apnea rating concurrently.
Rhinitis is a condition that causes you to have a reaction after breathing in an allergen. If it’s chronic, it can be linked to sleep apnea because rhinitis is known to cause or aggravate sleep apnea. Veterans with sleep apnea and rhinitis or sinusitis may be able to receive VA disability ratings for both conditions. To do this, they can show their service-connected rhinitis or sinusitis is causing their sleep apnea.
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Sleep apnea and substance abuse
Substance abuse may be another risk factor for sleep apnea. In one study, sleep disorders were found to be 5 to 10 times more likely in patients who abused alcohol and/or narcotics than in those who didn’t.
Alcohol or illicit drugs can disrupt the sleep systems in the brain, which could result in disturbed sleep patterns and put you at a higher risk for developing sleep apnea. However, though experts generally agree there’s a correlation between substance abuse and sleep apnea, there is still a lack of conclusive data on the subject.
Sleep apnea and other commonly-related conditions
In addition to the conditions explained above, sleep apnea is known to cause or worsen other health issues. Some other conditions include:
- Asthma. Asthmatic veterans are more likely to develop sleep apnea. On the other hand, sleep apnea is a known aggravator of asthma. Therefore, veterans with both conditions who have an asthma disability rating may be eligible for service connection for their sleep apnea as well. The VA will typically combine these conditions under one rating. This can sometimes lead to increased monthly compensation.
- GERD or acid reflux. Veterans with trouble sleeping from sleep apnea may aggravate GERD or acid reflux. At the same time, GERD or acid reflux can prevent veterans from sleeping, which can aggravate sleep apnea. Studies have found a higher rate of sleep apnea in patients with GERD. Therefore, many veterans may be eligible for ratings for both GERD and sleep apnea.
- Heart disease. Veterans with sleep apnea are more likely to have heart disease and heart attacks. Sleep apnea causes low oxygen levels and stress from waking up often. At the same time, these lower oxygen levels can increase the risk of heart-related issues. Therefore, many veterans may be eligible for ratings for both heart disease and sleep apnea.
- Migraines. Sleep apnea is a common cause of chronic migraines, but people with chronic migraines are also much more likely to experience sleep disorders. Veterans who were deployed are more likely than regular civilians to experience migraine headaches. Veterans with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) can also experience a high rate of headaches. Therefore, veterans with both conditions may be able to service-connect their migraines if they were brought on by service-connected sleep apnea.
- Stroke. Because sleep apnea affects how your body takes in oxygen, it can be linked to strokes. Sleep apnea can make it hard for your brain to regulate blood flow in your arteries and in the brain itself. Sleep apnea is a risk factor for strokes, and is also often diagnosed after a stroke. Veterans that obtain a VA sleep apnea rating may also be able to service connect a stroke.
These are some of the conditions associated with sleep apnea, but it is not a comprehensive list. The side effects of your medications for another service-connected conditions can also cause sleep apnea. If you believe this is the case, talk to your doctor about whether your medications may have caused or worsened your sleep apnea. You may also check with your doctor to see if another health condition you experience could be contributing to your sleep apnea.
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TDIU for sleep apnea
Many veterans with a VA sleep apnea rating may qualify for total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) benefits. Many veterans with service-connected sleep apnea have other health issues that are related to their sleep apnea or their time in the service. In fact, veterans receiving VA disability compensation have an average of more than 6 service-connected conditions. When you consider the combined effects of more than one condition, many veterans are considered unemployable by the VA’s standards.
Sleep apnea may make holding down a job difficult. Problems getting a good, full night’s sleep may make you extremely tired and unable to focus at work. You may be more irritable and lash out at others, making it hard to work well with customers or coworkers. You may even struggle to stay awake and find yourself dozing off on the job, causing you to be reprimanded or let go by an employer.
The VA designed TDIU benefits for veterans who can’t work but don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a 100% rating based on the Schedule of Ratings. Individual unemployability benefits pay the same as a 100% VA disability rating, but veterans do not have to obtain a 100% rating to be eligible.
Qualifying for schedular TDIU requires you to have:
- At least one service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR
- Two or more service-connected disabilities, with at least one disability ratable at 40% or more, and a combined rating of 70% or more.
Woods and Woods can help
If you experience sleep apnea you believe is connected to military service, either on its own or secondarily, you deserve VA disability compensation. Contact Woods and Woods to file an initial claim or appeal a rating decision. You only pay us if we win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, sleep apnea can be caused by and affect many other medical conditions, including sinusitis, rhinitis, and heart disease. If you have a medical condition resulting from your military service and can’t get restful sleep, you should discuss with your doctor whether there might be a connection between the conditions.
Veterans with service-connected sleep apnea will receive a rating of 0%, 30%, 50%, or 100%. Your VA sleep apnea rating is based on the severity and required treatment of your condition. Your VA sleep apnea rating will impact how much you receive a month in VA disability compensation.