Depression Rated by the VA as a Secondary Condition to Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a disorder that causes a sleeping person’s breathing to stop and start. This happens when the throat muscles repeatedly relax and block the airway when you sleep, limiting the amount of air that reaches your lungs. Snoring is a primary sign that you might suffer from OSA.

sleep_apneaDespite a full night’s sleep, OSA sufferers can wake up feeling exhausted and experience fatigue throughout the day. It’s possible to have problems with concentration, and you may inadvertently fall asleep.

Because your body is waking up consistently throughout the night, it doesn’t get the chance to fully rest. 


Over 22 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, and veterans’ claims for this condition have increased almost 150 percent since 2009. Approximately 9 out of 10 veterans who receive compensation for OSA are rated 50 percent disabled by this condition. The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that 94 percent of sleep disorder claims are from veterans of the Gulf War I and the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.

Veterans who suffer from service-connected OSA may also suffer from secondary medical conditions, including depression. Because OSA can reduce a veteran’s ability to get a solid night’s sleep, it can cause irritability and fatigue. If a veteran suffers through months and years of inconsistent, interrupted sleep, this may result in mental problems such as depression.

Since the VA recognizes depression as a ratable illness, you may be able to file a claim seeking compensation for this type of secondary psychological condition. If you have service-connected OSA and believe you’re suffering depression because of it, it’s beneficial to contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help appeal your claim.

OSA Symptoms and Long-Term Consequences

If you think you may suffer from OSA, there are some signs and symptoms of this condition, including:

  • Loud snoring
  • Headache when waking
  • Sore throat or dry mouth when waking
  • Sudden waking by choking or gasping
  • Extreme daytime sleepiness
  • High blood pressure
  • Night sweats
  • Stop-and-start pattern of breathing during sleep
  • Issues with concentration
  • Mood changes

When breathing is interrupted consistently throughout the night, the lack of oxygen in your body can have negative, long-term consequences. Patients with OSA may also suffer from:

  • Depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Pre-diabetes and diabetes

Depression and Qualifying for Benefits

The VA specifies depressive disorder, also called clinical depression, under the Psychological Rating System, Code 9434. You can claim depression as a secondary condition if you prove it was caused by your service-connected OSA. Your claim has a better chance of being approved if your doctor includes a written opinion about your condition. Requirements to qualify for benefits for depression include:

  • You need to be diagnosed with at least two major episodes of depression. Each of these episodes must have lasted two or more weeks.
  • You must have symptoms that interfere with your ability to handle a daily routine and function on a normal level. These symptoms may include:
    • Consistent feelings of sadness throughout the day
    • Reduced energy and feelings of fatigue
    • Lack of interest in past hobbies and activities
    • Desire to sleep too much or inability to sleep
    • Decrease in appetite or unintentional weight loss
    • Consistent thoughts of death

Connecting Your Depression With OSA

To prove your depression is caused to your service-connected OSA, a doctor or physician needs to show the link by:

  • Providing a diagnosis of depression—either major depressive disorder or dysthymic disorder
  • Providing evidence that your sleep disorder likely caused your depression

It’s also important to provide medical reports, test results, and evidence that show this relational link between OSA and depression. It’s helpful to have your doctor write a letter of opinion that explains the connection between your depression and your service-connected OSA. 

Contact Cuddigan Law

If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to OSA and would like to submit an application for depression as a secondary condition, call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys will examine your case, develop the best strategy, and work with you to submit a claim that increases your chances of receiving disability benefits. Contact our office today.

 

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