Introduction to Sleep Apnea VA Claims
Sleep apnea is a common but serious condition that affects millions of Americans, but veterans’ disability filings show us that it impacts veterans at a higher rate and that they’re diagnosed at a higher rate than the general population.
Over the past decade, the VA has seen a spike in claims for sleep apnea and as a result, there’s a greater awareness of this condition. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea, you may be entitled to veteran’s disability benefits. If the condition developed while you were in active service or was aggravated by your service, then you may have a path called direct service connection.
Sleep apnea impacts your ability to sleep, which impacts everything that comes after that – your ability to function and your ability to work. As such, if determined to be service-connected, sleep apnea can be an important part of your path to Total Disability Individual Unemployability benefits.
Sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing or your breathing becomes interrupted during the course of the night. Symptoms include snoring, choking, often breathing pauses for extended periods.
If you think that you may suffer from sleep apnea, for VA rating purposes, it’s really important that you go to a medical professional and you get a documented diagnosis by having a sleep study conducted. Without this diagnosis in writing (preferably, but not required, while you were in service) it can be difficult to connect the condition to your time in service.
Three Elements of a Successful VA Sleep Apnea Rating Claim
- Diagnosis of Sleep Apnea
Veteran that wish to obtain a VA sleep apnea rating should first get a diagnosis from the appropriate medical professional. Veterans should take part in a sleep study. These can be performed at a sleep clinic or sometimes in your own home. Veterans want to provide the VA with strong evidence of a sleep apnea diagnosis to be eligible for benefits.
- Active-Duty Incurrence or Aggravation of Sleep Apnea
Many veterans with sleep apnea did not get a diagnosis during the service and it is not required for a VA sleep apnea rating. However, veterans must show that their sleep apnea started or worsened from active-duty military service.
- Nexus Between Current Diagnosis and Event in Service
Veterans must explain the nexus between their current diagnosis and whatever event in service led to the condition. On appeal, many veterans use nexus letters from a qualified medical professional to provide the link between diagnosis and service.
Your VA Sleep Apnea Rating Explained
The VA sleep apnea rating system is found in the federal code 38 C.F.R. § 4.97, Code 6847. The VA rates sleep apnea with four different ratings: 0%, 30%, 50%, and 100%.
- 0% VA Sleep Apnea Rating
The lowest rating, 0%, is non-compensable, but even though you can’t get benefits for this on a monthly basis, you may be entitled to other benefits, such as VA healthcare.
- 30% VA Sleep Apnea Rating
The next rating is the 30% disability rating, and it’s warranted when there’s persistent daytime sleepiness. Veterans that receive a 30% VA sleep apnea rating often have hypersomnolence or hypersomnia – fancy words for excessive daytime sleepiness. So if you’re waking up in the middle of the night and you’re not getting a good night’s rest, and that’s causing you to need to take several naps during the day, or not to feel well-rested, or to have other signs of constant sleepiness, then you may fit into this category.
- 50% VA Sleep Apnea Rating
A 50% evaluation is assigned when the condition requires a breathing device, such as a CPAP machine. The 50% rating can have a big impact on your overall combined rating.
- 100% VA Sleep Apnea Rating
The highest rating, the 100% disability rating, is assigned for chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or where the veteran requires a tracheostomy. These cases are the most severe, and somewhat less common.
VA Sleep Apnea Rating and the Link to Other Service-Connected Conditions
- Acid Reflux
Medical researchers have found that there is a link between GERD or acid reflux and sleep apnea. Veterans that have 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. Therefore, many veterans receive both a GERD rating and a VA sleep apnea rating at the same time.
Many recent studies link obstructive sleep apnea to asthma. Asthmatic veterans are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. On the other hand, sleep apnea is a known aggravator of asthma. The common asthmatic features that further sleep apnea’s symptoms are nasal obstruction, a decrease in pharyngeal cross sectional area, and an increase in upper airway collapsibility.
- Chronic Rhinitis
There is sufficient medical evidence to link chronic rhinitis and sleep apnea together. Rhinitis is a known aggravator of sleep apnea. Rhinitis can be linked to microarousals and sleep fragmentation, which can worsen sleep apnea. Veterans with both conditions are often able to service-connect both conditions and receive a VA chronic rhinitis rating and VA sleep apnea rating at the same time.
- Heart Disease
Veterans with obstructive sleep apnea are much more likely to have heart disease and heart attacks. Sleep apnea causes low oxygen levels and stress from waking up often. Veterans that obtain a VA sleep apnea rating often receive heart disease veterans disability benefits at the same time.
Veterans with hypertension and sleep apnea may be able to service-connect both conditions. Sleep apnea can aggravate hypertension. If you are able to service-connect your sleep apnea, you may also receive hypertension VA disability benefits. When veterans are regularly woken up in their sleep, their bodies get stressed. That stress makes hormones, which increase blood pressure levels. Sleep apnea can also decrease your blood’s oxygen level and that worsens hypertension.
Veterans with obstructive sleep apnea have a heightened risk of chronic sinusitis. There are studies linking the conditions, which means veterans may be able service-connect the two conditions together. Sinusitis can aggravate obstructive sleep apnea and vice-versa. For this reason, veterans regularly receive both a VA sinusitis rating and a VA sleep apnea rating concurrently.
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 flows in your arteries and in the brain itself. Veterans that obtain a VA sleep apnea rating can regularly also service-connect strokes.
- Type II Diabetes
Sleep apnea is often linked to diabetes because of obesity. Not getting enough sleep can throw off the bodies insulin production and therefore might be linked to diabetes. Sleep apnea also can make people tired and they get less exercise, which leads to obesity. Veterans can receive both sleep apnea and diabetes veterans disability benefits at the same time.
VA Sleep Apnea Rating and Individual Unemployability
Many veterans with a VA sleep apnea rating may qualify for Individual Unemployability benefits. Most veterans with service-connected sleep apnea have other health issues that are related to their sleep apnea or their time in the service. When you consider all the conditions, many of these veterans are essentially unemployable by the VA’s standards.
The VA designed Individual Unemployability benefits as a safety net for veterans that can’t work, but also can’t obtain a 100% rating. Individual Unemployability benefits pay the same as a 100% VA disability rating. However, eligible veterans do not have to obtain a 100% rating to be eligible.
There are two ways to be eligible for Individual Unemployability benefits:
- Evidence of at least one service connected disability AND
- That the service-connected disability or disabilities are sufficient, without regard to other factors,
to prevent performing the mental and/or physical tasks required to get or keep substantially gainful employment AND
- That one disability is ratable at 60% or more, OR
- If more than one disability exists, one disability is ratable at 40% or more with a combined rating of 70% or more.
Read more about Individual Unemployability on these pages:
- Individual Unemployability Fact Sheet
- PTSD Individual Unemployability Benefits
- Individual Unemployability and Social Security Disability
- VA Individual Unemployability Form 21-8940
- VA Unemployability Requirements Income Limits
- Individual Unemployability Timeline
FAQ: Your VA Sleep Apnea Rating
- What is sleep apnea?
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep. Sometimes the airflow is completely stopped or just reduced. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain does not send the body signals to breathe.
- Should I have a sleep apnea study done?
If you suspect that you suffer from sleep apnea, we highly suggest you get a sleep study. First we recommend a sleep study for your own health. Secondly, you are going to need evidence of your condition to obtain a VA sleep apnea rating. A sleep study can diagnose you with sleep apnea and is the a great way to figure out what medical precautions you need to take.
- Can sleep apnea be service-connected?
Yes. Sleep apnea can be service-connected in many different ways. While most veterans don’t have a diagnosis while serving, they can use buddy statements to prove their condition existed at the time of service. For example, you can use a statement from someone you served with to show you snored really loudly and that you stopping breathing in your sleep for periods of time. During your active duty service, you slept very close to many other people and they may be able to show your sleep patterns developed or worsened from service.
- Can I secondarily service-connect sleep apnea?
Potentially, yes. If you have a service-connected condition that caused or aggravated your sleep apnea, your sleep apnea may be considered a secondary service-connected condition. An example of this would be a veteran with a service-connected lung condition that has trouble breathing. Another example is a veteran with severe sleep disorders that aggravate sleep apnea.
- How does the VA rate sleep apnea?
First the VA is going to verify that your sleep apnea is service-connected. Then the VA is going to examine the severity of your sleep apnea and assign a rating. You should provide as much medical evidence of your sleep apnea as possible to show the severity of your condition.
- What VA ratings are available for sleep apnea?
Veterans with service-connected sleep apnea will receive a rating of 0%, 30%, 50%, or 100%. Your VA sleep apnea rating is based upon the severity of your condition. Your VA sleep apnea rating will determine how much you receive a month in VA disability compensation.
- What does a 0% VA sleep apnea rating mean?
Believe it or not, the VA does assign some veterans a 0% VA sleep apnea rating. This means the VA found your sleep apnea service-connected, but not severe enough to receive VA disability compensation every month. While receiving a 0% rating is frustrating, you can appeal the VA’s decision. You have one year to file an appeal. The appeal deadline should be listed on your VA disability Rating Decision letter.
- Can veterans get a VA sleep apnea rating of 100%?
Yes. Veterans can get a 100% VA disability rating for sleep apnea. Veterans that are diagnosed with chronic respiratory failure from carbon dioxide retention or veterans that require a tracheostomy can obtain a 100% VA sleep apnea rating.
- How do I file a claim for sleep apnea?
An easy way to file a VA disability claim is to call Woods & Woods veterans disability benefits lawyers. We never charge for help with filing your VA disability benefits application. If you obtain a VA sleep apnea rating from the application, you pay us nothing.
- Does mild sleep apnea qualify for VA disability?
Yes. Veterans with mild service-connected sleep apnea can receive benefits. Veterans with mild service-connected sleep apnea may receive up to a 30% or 50% VA sleep apnea rating.
- What if I was denied a VA sleep apnea rating?
Many veterans are denied VA disability and they have the option to file an appeal. We highly suggest you discuss your claim with a VA benefits appeal lawyer after a denial. There is never a cost to talk with Woods & Woods VA compensation disability attorneys about appealing. We can offer from guidance on what legal options are available to you.
Get Help With Your VA Sleep Apnea Rating
Think you need help with your sleep apnea disability claim? Haven’t applied and want assistance? Were you denied a VA sleep apnea rating and want to appeal? Just not sure what to do next? Give Woods & Woods a call.
Since 1985, we have successfully represented thousands of veterans and their families. We offer free legal consultations and free help filing your application. Our lawyers only charge if you hire us for an appeal and we win. Our law firm is here to answer any questions you have and make a recommendation for your claim. If you need help, reach out to us about your VA sleep apnea rating.