How Do Veterans Qualify for Sleep Apnea Disability Benefits?

In 1996, The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognized sleep apnea as a disability. This condition was included in the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities—guidelines for determining the eligibility of veterans’ claims. For U.S. veterans, sleep apnea can be a real problem—one that may be associated with long-term exposure to chemicals and dust or as a secondary condition related to a service-connected condition like Agent Orange exposure.

Sleep apnea happens when a sleeping person stops breathing because he is unable to maintain air flow through his nose and mouth. Each brief period without oxygen can last for 10 to 30 seconds and occur 400 times a night. People who suffer from sleep apnea wake up without the proper needed rest. And if the condition isn’t treated, it can lead to severe health risks, including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, memory problems, and fatigue. Under certain circumstances, a veteran may be eligible to receive disability benefits for sleep apnea. 

How Veterans Can Receive VA Disability Benefits for Sleep Apnea

Depending on how severe your symptoms are for sleep apnea, you may be eligible for VA disability compensation.There are several ways to qualify for sleep apnea benefits: (1) if your condition began A Sleeping Veteran Wearing a CPAP Maskwhile serving in the military;(2) if you were diagnosed with sleep apnea within one year of your discharge; or (3)If your sleep apnea causes or aggravates or is caused or aggravated by a service-connected condition. If you need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to sleep, you may be considered 50 percent disabled. However, new rules promulgated by the VA require that you show that your breathing assistive device is medically necessary. This means that you need a prescription from your doctor. Since May 1, 2016 other breathing machines, dental aids and nasal dilators, so long as they are medically necessary, may qualify you for the 50% rating.  If your sleep apnea causes persistent daytime hypersomnolence it will rated at 30 percent disabled.

If you plan to file a VA disability claim for sleep apnea, it’s important that you document your symptoms and treatment, so your condition can be rated correctly. It’s likely you’ll need to show that you underwent sleep studies, kept sleep diaries, and tracked your symptoms such as extreme sleepiness in the daytime, chronic fatigue, or use of a breathing assistive device that is medically necessary.Sometimes the development of lay evidence (buddy statements) documenting snoring during service will be helpful in proving your case. In many other cases the diagnosis of sleep apnea can be directly related to an Agent Orange Exposure and the list of diseases presumptively related to Agent Orange.If your symptoms interfere with your ability to work, you should document that as well.

If you think your sleep apnea is related to your service in the military, it’s important that you file a claim immediately to preserve the effective date you believe the condition first started. However a secondary connection claim can be filed anytime.

If you need to appeal your sleep apnea rating decision, contact us at 402-933-5405 to discuss your situation. We can help determine if you’re eligible for VA disability benefits.

Sean D. Cuddigan
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska