Veterans know that there is a great risk of injury on the job.
If someone is injured while enlisted, they are likely eligible for VA Disability Benefits.
What people may not know is that secondary issues may arise from service-connected injuries and that these can be counted towards your overall VA Disability rating.
Is sleep apnea one of these secondary issues?
What Is Sleep Apnea?
Mayo Clinic defines sleep apnea as “a potentially serious sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.”
This condition can be caused by an obstruction of the airway that causes the airways to narrow and not allow enough oxygen into your bloodstream while sleeping.
Your brain responds to this by waking you up to reopen the airway.
Less commonly, sleep apnea can be caused by the brain failing to transmit signals to your lungs to breathe while you are sleeping.
Is Sleep Apnea Considered a VA Disability?
Sleep apnea is considered a VA disability under the Federal Schedule for Rating Disabilities 38 CFR § 4.97, Code 6847.
How can a disorder for sleep and restricted airways be considered service-connected?
As previously stated, injuries sustained during active duty can cause other problems. As such, any secondary condition is still considered for VA Disability as it is indirectly connected to your service.
How to Prove Sleep Apnea is Service Connected
The Veterans Affairs Resource Center states that there are 4 common ways that a service connection can be made:
- Medical records can show the development of sleep apnea during service
- Determination of aggravation of a before-service disability that are beyond the natural progression of the condition
- Taking into consideration the hardships of your service (combat duty vs. active duty)
- Presumption by the VA that a disability or condition is service-connected
Many variables are taken into consideration when making service connections to your disabilities. These include documented records, your type of service, your pre-existing conditions, and the VA’s overall ruling.
Normally, a sleep study is conducted to diagnose sleep apnea. A nexus letter can then be written by a doctor. A Nexus letter helps in linking service-connected conditions with your sleep apnea, and is a requirement to receive VA disability.
What Primary Conditions Can Cause Secondary Sleep Apnea?
There are many issues that can be an underlying cause of sleep apnea.
Here are some of the more common ones.
Obesity has been linked to sleep apnea, as weight gain and thickening of the neck can restrict airways.
If you were injured in the line of duty and unable to get healthy exercise, thus resulting in obesity, sleep apnea could be linked to the injury sustained.
Use of Pain Medications
Long-acting opioid medications that are used to help with pain have been known to cause sleep apnea.
Taking such medications for a service-connected accident may provide your nexus, or connection, for your VA disability for sleep apnea.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has also been linked to sleep apnea in veterans.
The link between the two may be sleep deprivation while on duty, chronic stress, and disturbed sleep in combat, among other things.
What is the VA Rating for Sleep Apnea?
The VA uses the Federal Schedule of Ratings to rate disabilities. Sleep apnea falls under the respiratory system guidelines.
Under these ratings, sleep apnea can be rated as a 0, 30, 50, or 100.
Here is a breakdown of the differences:
0 Asymptomatic but with a documented sleep disorder
30 Persistent daytime hypersomnolence
50 Requires use of a breathing assistance device such as continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machine
100 Chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonale, or; requires tracheostomy
Hypersomnolence is excessive tiredness during the daytime. If you feel groggy most of the time, you may rate a 30.
If you have a CPAP machine, you are automatically rated at a 50.
Keep in mind that even if you are rated at 50, you still have to have a nexus letter written linking your disability rating with your time in service.
RELATED CASE: CPAP RECALL
On June 14, 2021, Philips announced a recall notification for some of their CPAP and other machines. Philips is one of, if not the, largest manufacturers of CPAP/Auto CPAP/BiPAP devices and therefore many people who use these devices will likely be affected by the recall.
Philips has determined from testing that the polyester-based polyurethane (PE-PUR) sound abatement foam used to reduce the noise of the machine may be harmful to those who use it.
If you use a Philips brand machine and have had adverse side effects, you may be eligible for compensation due to this recall.
What is the VA Compensation For Sleep Apnea?
Compensation for service-connected sleep apnea varies widely based on your situation, your sleep apnea VA rating, and what other disabilities the rating is combined with.
Sleep apnea is rarely diagnosed by itself, but if it were, and you were a veteran living alone, you would see a payment of $435.69 per month according to rates effective December 1, 2019.
In contrast, a rating of 100 while you are supporting a spouse and 1 child would get you $3,406.04 per month.
These are basic calculations based on the December 1, 2019 rates. They do not take into account any other special circumstances or combination with any other disabilities.
To get a better idea of what your monthly payments may be, you can visit the 2020 Veterans disability compensation rates page on the VA website.
You can also calculate your combined disability rating by using charts from the Benefit Rates page of the VA website.
Is Sleep Apnea Considered A Permanent VA Disability?
Sleep Apnea is not necessarily a permanent disability.
For example, if your service-connected sleep apnea is secondarily caused by an injury that doesn’t allow you to exercise properly and makes you become obese, but after a time in physical therapy you are able to exercise again and lose your weight, then sleep apnea may not be a permanent condition.
Your reevaluation period for your disability rating will be determined when you are given the rating. The reevaluation usually takes place within 2 to 5 years of being granted benefits.
You will get a letter in the mail stating that your reevaluation is coming up, and this likely means that the VA received new medical evidence on your case and want to see if you still meet your current rating.
If you have had a service-connected disability for 10 years or longer, your score cannot be reduced.
Can the VA Take Away My Sleep Apnea Rating?
Since the condition is not considered a permanent VA disability, you can have your rating taken away by the VA.
If the condition resolves over time, and you are reevaluated to not have sleep apnea any more, you will no longer be able to claim that rating for compensation.
As such, the 10-year rule mentioned above would still apply, so whether or not they can take it away also depends on the length of time you’ve had the condition as a part of your total disability rating.
Contact VanDerGinst Law
A veterans disability attorney from VanDerGinst Law can help you if you have been denied benefits.
We can assist you in building your case and filing your appeal.
There is a time limit on filing your appeal, so contact us right away.
We would be honored to help.
Call us at 800-797-5391 for your free consultation or to discuss your case.
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