Understanding Veterans Affairs Compensation for Sleep Apnea: A Comprehensive Guide

Veterans must document their sleep apnea through a medical evaluation, including a sleep study. They must also establish a service connection for the condition by showing its onset, event, or cause in service.

This process can be challenging, especially when the veteran has multiple health conditions. Working with an experienced veteran disability advocate can help maximize the chances of a successful claim.

What Is VA Compensation for Sleep Apnea?

VA compensation for sleep apnea is based on your specific condition and its impact on your ability to work. The same general requirements for receiving any current disability rating apply to a claim for sleep apnea: a medical diagnosis linked to an event, injury, or illness that happened while you were on active duty and evidence of how your condition impacts you now.

The most common sleep apnea treatment is a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine. This can be expensive, and not all veterans can afford it. Those who can are often eligible for a CPAP allowance in addition to their regular disability rating.

A 100 percent rating is usually saved for patients needing a tracheostomy or severe symptoms such as cor pulmonale or chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention. A less severe sleep apnea rating can still be part of a TDIU claim when it helps make a veteran unemployable.

How Can I Get VA Benefits for Sleep Apnea?

The VA requires veterans who claim sleep apnea as part of their disability to undergo a polysomnogram (sleep study). This test measures brain activity, eye movements, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, snoring, and chest movement during sleep.

Once the results of a polysomnogram are obtained, veterans can be given a diagnosis and VA ratings for their condition. The VA assigns a rating of 0% for an asymptomatic sleep disorder, 30% for persistent hypersomnolence during the day, 50% for the requirement of using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device, and 100% for chronic respiratory failure resulting in carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonale, necessitating a tracheostomy.

In addition, the VA sleep apnea rating is determined based on the severity of the condition and its impact on the veteran’s overall health and functioning.

The VA can also service connect sleep apnea on a secondary basis by proving that it is related to a primary condition with a nexus with an event, injury, or illness that occurred while the veteran was on qualifying active duty military service. However, establishing this link can be complicated and is best done with the help of an experienced veterans benefits attorney.

How Can I Get VA Benefits for Secondary Sleep Apnea?

When a veteran’s sleep apnea is linked to an event, injury, or illness during military service, they may receive VA compensation. This is known as a secondary service connection.

To establish a secondary service connection, veterans must show that their sleep apnea is caused by an event, injury, or illness during active duty. This must be proved by a medical review, comparing their current symptoms and diagnoses to the VA’s rating schedule.

For example, veterans who have PTSD are more likely to suffer from sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea. Researchers have also discovered a link between long-term exposure to smoke and chemicals (such as burn pits and Agent Orange) and sleep apnea. Additionally, rhinitis and asthma can both cause or worsen sleep apnea in veterans. Therefore, a veteran with these conditions can seek a combined disability rating that includes both their asthma and sleep apnea. Generally, the highest ratings are reserved for severe complications of these conditions.

How Can I Get VA Benefits for Primary Sleep Apnea?

If you have primary sleep apnea, you can obtain VA disability compensation by proving that it limits your daily activities. It is essential to show that your sleep disorder interferes with work and requires the use of a breathing assistive device such as a CPAP machine. You must also prove service connection by showing that your condition results from an in-service injury or illness.

Research is now starting to link long-term exposure to toxic smoke and chemicals such as burn pits and Agent Orange with sleep apnea. Additionally, several veterans have rhinitis and sinusitis that can cause or make sleep apnea worse.

A CPAP machine is one of the most effective treatments for sleep apnea. The VA will assess your condition and may order a sleep study to diagnose it. The sleep study will measure your heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and brain waves while asleep to determine how well you breathe and if you suffer from apnea. The VA then assigns a rating from 0 to 100%, which qualifies you for specific benefits and a certain amount of monthly compensation.

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