VA Disability Rating for Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea has been a VA-rated disability since 1996. Even though sleep apnea is typically rated secondary to other service-connected disabilities, you can be assigned a VA disability rating for sleep apnea and receive monthly compensation. For more information on the causes of sleep apnea, potential complications, and how to qualify for VA disability for your sleep apnea, reach out to Veterans Guide.

Key Takeaways
  • The VA rates sleep apnea at 0, 30, 50, or 100 percent, based on the severity and the need for devices like CPAP machines.
  • Veterans can qualify for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) if sleep apnea significantly impairs their ability to work.
  • Sleep apnea can be linked to other conditions such as PTSD, exposure to toxins, and other physical or mental health issues.
  • To receive a VA rating, veterans must provide a diagnosis, sleep study results, and evidence of service connection.

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder that occurs when a sleeping person cannot maintain enough oxygen flow through their nose and mouth. As a result, the individual experiences sudden starts and stops in their breathing while asleep. A spouse or other witness most often reports these incidents and may go completely unnoticed by the patient. 

There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea, and treatment-emergent central sleep apnea, also known as complex sleep apnea. You will need to see your doctor to be properly diagnosed.

If you already have a sleep apnea diagnosis, you can apply for a VA disability rating for sleep apnea and receive compensation for your military-connected disability.

Signs that you may have sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Feelings of fatigue, even after a full night’s rest
  • Episodes where breathing stops suddenly and restarts during sleep
  • Gasping for air while asleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches upon awakening
  • Insomnia
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Difficulty paying attention during the day
  • Irritability

The National Sleep Foundation found that while roughly 20 percent of adults in the United States suffer from sleep apnea, 85 percent do not even know they have it. Untreated sleep apnea has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, memory problems, obesity, fatigue, traffic accidents, death, and insufficient sleep.

Veterans and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a leading cause of insufficient sleep. Active duty service members are 34 percent more likely to report not getting enough sleep than civilians with no history of military service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs first recognized sleep apnea as a disability in 1996. Since then, sleep apnea has been linked to toxins from exposure to burn pits and chemicals like Agent Orange during military service. 

Although sleep apnea is often a secondary diagnosis to other military-connected disabilities such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, you can still receive a VA rating for your sleep apnea.

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How Does the VA Rate Sleep Apnea?

The VA includes sleep apnea in its respiratory system rating schedule under diseases of the nose and throat. To be eligible for compensation for sleep apnea, you must obtain a diagnosis from your doctor. The VA also requires that you undergo a sleep study and provide evidence that a military-connected event, injury, or illness caused your sleep apnea.

What rating can the VA give a sleep apnea condition?

The VA can assign ratings of 0, 30, 50, and 100 percent in cases of sleep apnea, as follows:

  • 0 percent: This rating recognizes that you have a documented sleep disorder but currently do not suffer from sleep apnea symptoms. You will not receive any compensation for your sleep apnea with this rating.
  • 30 percent: Your sleep apnea is causing you to experience persistent daytime sleepiness that does not improve with adequate sleep at night and may impair your ability to function during the day.
  • 50 percent: You require a breathing device for continuous positive airway pressure (a CPAP machine), other breathing machines, a dental device, or a nasal dilator to treat your sleep apnea symptoms.
  • 100 percent: A full disability rating for sleep apnea is rare but is assigned in cases where the veteran has chronic respiratory failure, retains carbon dioxide, and requires a tracheostomy to breathe.

Sleep Apnea and TDIU

The VA provides Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU) benefits for veterans with VA disability ratings of less than 100 percent who cannot work because of their service-connected conditions. 

TDIU allows qualified veterans to receive the same benefits as someone rated 100 percent disabled. Eligible veterans must show their conditions prevent them from finding or maintaining a job. 

To qualify for TDIU for sleep apnea, you must have a VA disability rating of 60 percent or higher and provide documented evidence that you are unemployable because of your disability.

Sleep Apnea as a Secondary Disability

Sleep apnea is often tied to other medical conditions or military-associated events, including:

  • Exposure to burn pit toxins or chemicals like Agent Orange
  • Weight gain caused by a service-connected disability preventing physical activity
  • Physical and mental trauma
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Disorders of the endocrine system, including hypothyroidism
  • Certain muscle diseases
  • Allergies
  • Deviated septum
  • Chronic nasal congestion
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Substance abuse
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

What Is a Secondary Disability Rating?

If you suffer from another service-related condition that triggered your sleep apnea, you can apply for a secondary disability with the VA to increase your VA disability rating. To qualify for a secondary disability rating for sleep apnea, you will need to prove that:

  • You have a current diagnosis of sleep apnea
  • Your sleep apnea is tied to another service-connected disability, or your military service worsened it

How Is PTSD Linked to Sleep Apnea?

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing traumatic events. One study found that nearly 60 percent of veterans who suffered from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder also suffered from obstructive sleep apnea.

Obstructive sleep apnea is a common secondary diagnosis for veterans already receiving benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder. This may be because veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder experience chronic stress, have trouble relaxing, and fail to get a restful night’s sleep. These are all risk factors for developing sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea may have positive benefits for managing post-traumatic stress disorder and depression symptoms.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Sleep Apnea?

To get the VA to assign a secondary disability rating for sleep apnea, you must prove that your diagnosis resulted from your military service or other service-connected disabilities. This increases the chance the VA will rate your claim correctly and award the compensation you deserve. Some things you can do to document your sleep apnea include the following:

  • Save any data that led to your diagnosis, including the results of sleep studies you completed. 
  • Record episodes of daytime drowsiness, lack of focus, or chronic fatigue, noting the date and time they occur.
  • Document the medical devices you use to treat your sleep apnea, such as a CPAP machine.
  • Provide a written statement describing how sleep apnea interferes with your ability to work.
  • Ask for a letter from your physician stating that sleep apnea is secondary to another diagnosis, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Collect medical records related to both your primary medical condition and sleep apnea.
three people sitting on a couch with health items

How Can I Apply for VA Disability Compensation for Sleep Apnea?

You can file for VA disability compensation by mail or online. When filing a secondary service-connected claim for sleep apnea, you must submit evidence of your condition and its link with the primary condition for which you already receive compensation. 

For example, a medical nexus letter from your doctor or other qualified healthcare professional could state that your sleep apnea results from service-connected asthma caused by exposure to toxic burn pits. 

Even though there are many hoops to jump through to increase your VA disability rating, it’s worth your time and trouble to receive the compensation you deserve if you qualify. 

Contact Veterans Guide if you want more information or have questions about how to file for a VA disability rating for sleep apnea.

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