VA Disability Rating for Sleep Apnea

Updated: November 4, 2022
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    What kind of VA disability rating is possible for sleep apnea? Sleep apnea 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 including 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

    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. 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 of the other types above)

    Obstructive sleep apnea is a common form, which occurs when the throat muscles relax during sleep and causes 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 most severe form.

    When sleep apnea is suspected, a sleep study is usually conducted to properly diagnose the problem. External equipment known as a CPAP machine is generally used to treat the condition. The CPAP, short for continuous positive airway pressure, helps keep the airway open during sleep to prevent disturbances caused by sleep apnea.

    Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

    There are multiple symptoms, but remember 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 housemate to give you information that could help with your decision making about this issue–if someone tells you you’ve been snoring or showing signs of other sleep disturbances, take such reports seriously and consider committing those observations to writing for your future claim’s sake.

    Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

    • Snoring
    • Interrupted or stopped breathing during sleep
    • Gasping for air during sleep
    • Waking 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

    Sleep apnea may be defined in any of several categories 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 requiring a tracheostomy due to “chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention” or “cor pulmonale”
    • Conditions requiring the use of a breathing assistance device such as a CPAP machine
    • Persistent daytime 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 uses a guide to qualifying conditions that include:

    • 100% rating: Awarded in cases of “chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonale, or requires tracheostomy”
    • 50% rating: Awarded in cases where the use of a CPAP machine is required
    • 30%rating: Awarded for persistent daytime “hypersomnolence”
    • 0% 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.

    In cases where you may not be able to establish a direct link between military service and the condition, it may be possible it is due to 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 preexisting 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 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 as possible medically documented while still continuing to serve and getting supporting medical opinions in addition to whatever treatment or study of your sleep issues happens 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.

    Written by Team