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 during military service. Many veterans qualify for benefits on the basis of a secondary service-connection to a condition such as exposure to Agent Orange. Agent Orange exposure has many health conditions that are presumptively service-connected. There are many other conditions that are secondary connected.

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 pay if your condition began while serving in the military. If you need a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to sleep,or other breathing assistive machine or device, that is medically necessary, you may be considered 50 percent disabled. Just under 1,000 veterans received disability payments in 2001 for sleep apnea, but 25,000 received benefits in 2012. This has caused the VA to consider revising the disability rating schedule for this condition. Some believe that the 50 percent rating may be extreme. One vocal critic has been pressing the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs to investigate the increase in claims. In response to this criticism the Veteran's Administration changed it regulations for the 50% rating effective April 30, 2016. Now treatments other than CPAP machines are recognized so long as they are medically necessary. This means other breathing machines, dental devices and nasal dilators will be considered.

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 prescribed breathing assistive device. If your symptoms interfere with your ability to work, you should document that as well.

If you think your sleep apnea is directly 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. But direct connection is only one way to qualify for benefits for sleep apnea; most veterans qualify for benefits on the basis of a secondary connection.

If your sleep apnea is interfering with your ability to work, 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
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska