Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a sleep disorder in which a person’s breathing is consistently interrupted throughout the night with a brief pause that can last up to 10 seconds. This occurs when the muscles at the back of the throat relax and don’t keep the airway open to allow normal breathing patterns.

man_with_insomniaThis type of splintered sleep causes low blood oxygen levels and limits the amount of air that can reach the sleeping person’s lungs.

Over 22 million people in the U.S. suffer from OSA, and there's been a sharp increase in veterans’ claims for this condition since 2009. Approximately 9 out of 10 veterans who receive benefits for OSA are rated 50 percent disabled by this condition.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reports that over 90 percent of disability claims for OSA come from veterans who served in the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, as well as the Gulf War.

OSA and the Link to Depression

It’s estimated that OSA affects one in two men and one in five women, and over 80 percent of cases are undiagnosed. A variety of medical conditions are associated with OSA, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression.

People often develop depression because OSA interferes with a veteran’s ability to sleep peacefully through the night. Consequently, he can feel extreme fatigue and exhaustion during the day because his body never has the chance to fully rest. After months of interrupted sleep, a veteran can experience mood swings, feelings of sadness, negative thoughts, as well as other symptoms of depression.

Because the VA recognizes depression as a ratable illness, a veteran can file a claim for benefits if he suffers from this secondary illness. If you have service-connected OSA and believe you have depression because of it, contact an experienced VA disability lawyer to help file your claim.

How the VA Rates OSA Secondary Depression

To be diagnosed with depression, there are certain symptoms you must exhibit, and they must impair your ability to function. These symptoms include:

  • A loss of interest in the activities you once enjoyed
  • A feeling of sadness during most of the day
  • The inability to sleep at night, or you're sleeping to excess
  • A feeling of low energy or extreme fatigue
  • An ongoing series of thoughts about death or suicide

If you can provide evidence of these symptoms and your claim for OSA secondary depression is approved by the VA, your condition receives a rating on a percentage scale from 0–to–100 percent.

It’s important to know that even if you receive a 0 percent rating—which means you may have symptoms of depression, but they don’t interfere with your ability to function in normal life—you may still qualify for some types of VA benefits, including healthcare. So, a rating of 0 percent can be helpful. If the VA gives you a 100 percent rating, this means you’re unable to work at any type of job; or function socially; or maintain any type of daily routine.

For a veteran to receive benefits for secondary depression, it’s important that he has:

  • A current diagnosis of depression from a physician
  • A service-connected disability and can prove it
  • The ability to show medical evidence of the association between that disability and his depression

It’s also helpful to provide a doctor’s opinion explaining how the veteran’s physical condition caused the depression.

Contact Cuddigan Law

If you’re a veteran suffering from depression due to OSA, you may be eligible for VA benefits.

If you’d like to submit an application for depression as a secondary condition, or your claim was denied and you’d like to appeal it, call Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have years of experience handling veterans’ claims, and we are happy to handle yours. We 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
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska