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Is Sleep Apnea a Disability? A Guide for Veterans

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Is Sleep Apnea a disability? What are the new VA rules regarding disability claims? How have the rules changed? This article has helpful information about new VA regulations regarding Sleep Apnea as a disability, and also includes a section with information about how PTSD can impact Sleep Apnea. The article also covers how the Social Security Administration views Sleep Apnea disability claims.

Is Sleep Apnea a Disability?

For veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces, there is good news. The VA classifies Sleep Apnea as a disability for which compensation is granted. There are special rules regarding how a Sleep Apnea disability claim is treated by the VA. It’s harder to get than it used to be, and there are more regulations. We’ll go over this more in the next section.

How Does the VA Determine Disability?
What is a Disability Rating Level?

Before diving further into a discussion of how disability compensation is awarded for Sleep Apnea, it’s important to understand how the VA determines disability.showing patriotic veteran at an airshow

First of all, in order for the VA to pay anything on a disability claim, the disability has to be connected to a veteran’s time spent in the Armed Services.

Once the VA confirms the disability exists they then assign it a rating level. This rating level determines the amount of compensation paid by the VA. Getting a 50% disability rating level means higher compensation. However, recently, the VA has changed how the 50% disability rating level is awarded.

It used to be much easier for a veteran to get VA disability for Sleep Apnea. In the past, VA disability for Sleep Apnea could be awarded based on a prescription for a CPAP machine alone. However recently, the VA disability Sleep Apnea eligibility criteria rules were rewritten.

Veterans Affairs 50% Disability Rating is Harder to Get

The new rules made it so that a prescription for a CPAP machine alone is not enough evidence to demonstrate a 50% disability. Now, the need for a CPAP machine is considered to be a medical question, which can only be answered by a physician. In addition to the prescription for the machine, the physician needs to present documentation of how Sleep Apnea impacts your life, and how it was caused by military service.

The added requirement may surprise veterans who are looking to get a 50% VA disability rating for Sleep Apnea. With the rule changes, a veteran who applies for VA disability for Sleep Apnea could get their claim denied if they do not prove medical necessity that requires further documentation from your doctor.

And even then, it’s not a guarantee that you’d get approval from the VA. The VA seems to showing military band during a military celebrationbe scrutinizing VA disability claims for Sleep Apnea more closely than they did in the past. Is Sleep Apnea a disability? Yes, but there are many things to consider when filing a VA claim.


How Sleep Apnea Could Link to Military Service

There are a number of ways military service can lead to developing Sleep Apnea. It can also happen from routine injuries during the course of performing one’s military duties. This can include: broken legs, ankles, back injuries, and the list goes on. The military is a very physically demanding work environment, and sometimes injuries happen.

Sleep Apnea in the workplace injuries can lead to a loss of mobility and activity, which can lead to a person developing risk factors for Sleep Apnea, such as weight gain due to decreased mobility. It’s a VA requirement that a veteran demonstrates the disability claim for Sleep Apnea be the result of military service, so it’s important for the link to be demonstrated as part of the VA disability claim.

PTSD and Sleep Apnea

A recent study found that younger veterans with PTSD and Sleep Apnea who served during Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraq Freedom, and Operation New Dawn, are more likely to have Obstructive Sleep Apnea. The study takes the position that sleep restlessness (a key component of Sleep Apnea) may be higher in some veterans with PTSD because of wartime experiences and prolonged sleep deprivation.

The study also found that among younger veterans, PTSD and Sleep Apnea is not usually the result of a high BMI (being overweight). PTSD and Sleep Apnea is caused by trauma. Combat provides ample opportunity for traumatic events. These combat experiences can lead to PTSD and Sleep Apnea disrupting sleep and make it hard for a vet to sleep restfully.

Let’s face it, the effects of Sleep Apnea can be very difficult to deal with. But there is hope. With the right treatment, a person can minimize the symptoms associated with the disease.

Social Security and Sleep Apnea

Is Sleep Apnea a disability? The answer is: it depends. Sleep Apnea used to be classified as a disability by the Social Security Administration.

As of 2016, the Social Security Administration (SSA) stopped qualifying people for disability compensation because of Sleep Apnea alone. There is one exception. If Sleep Apnea accompanies a more severe chronic condition like Chronic Pulmonary Hypertension or Chronic Heart Failure, then this is something the SSA would likely classify as a disability, qualifying an individual for compensation.

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What are your experiences in working with Sleep Apnea? Did anyone get denied by the VA for their Sleep Apnea disability claim? Let us know in the comments below! When you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get the latest news and updates about Sleep Apnea treatment delivered right to your inbox.

  • David Repasky

    David Repasky has been using CPAP treatment since 2017 and has first-hand experience with what it's like to live with Sleep Apnea. He brings the patient's perspective to the CPAP.com blog and has received formal training in CPAP machines, masks, and equipment.

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10 Responses

  1. I was recently denied (2018) VA disability for sleep apnea. Submission of claim was made prior to being clinically diagnosed with SA. Prior to the submission of claim my primary physician had for several years suggested that I get a Sleep Test but I denied I had the condition. The VA has also given me a 0% disability for service connected IPF (Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis). Since receiving the IPF diagnosis I’ve read several studies connecting IPF with SA,, indicating that possibly up to 80% of those studied with IPF also had SA. In addition the VA has deferred decision on another diagnosis of CAD (Cardiac Artery Disease).

  2. I have been trying to get my sleep apnea linked to military service since 2016. I served in O.I.F. in 2005 where I had exposure to burn pits 2-3 days a week. I also have a 70% rating for ptsd, and have suffered 2 documented concussions while on active duty and probably had a 3rd that I didn’t get checked out for. I have been applying for 3 years for sleep apnea and cannot even get a c&p exam for it.

    1. Hi Steve, I’m so sorry to hear of your struggle in getting your sleep apnea linked to your service. Your comment is unclear if your Sleep Apnea is diagnosed and being currently treated, or remains undiagnosed and untreated. You might try checking out cpaptalk.com to connect with other veterans in your situation currently, or who may be able to offer advice in your quest.

      Please feel free to reach us at 1-800-356-5221, or e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com, with further questions, or concerns.

      Thank you for your service to our country

  3. contrary to general belief it is futile to attempt a claim that obstructive sleep apnea originated during the military service unless it was diagnosed during or shortly after service. I have recently published a book titled medical evidence in veterans’ disability published by Amazon. A chapter on obstructive sleep apnea describe 8 Service Connected Disabilities which can be linked to obstructive sleep apnea the law requires that if a Service Connected Disabilities aggravate a non service connected disability the non Service Connected Disabilities becomes a Service Connected Disabilities. The most common conditions linked to obstructive sleep apnea are PTSD mood disorder migraines tinnitus GERD asthma and heart disease

  4. After a long time getting punched in the arm at night and told to roll over and quit snoring, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. In June 1994, I was operated on (a procedure where they cut out your tonsils and uvula). The procedure was deemed a success and it was (in that I survived and didn’t die), but it did not cure sleep apnea. It never did. I retired in Aug 1994. Years later, I was told by a retired VA disability evaluator that sleep apnea during active duty and after active duty was a rubber stamp “YES”. It was the easiest claim they had to check. I still had sleep apnea at the time so I applied for the disability. I applied for sleep apnea disability in 2016. (I didn’t know apnea was a disability I could claim.) The VA said I did not have sleep apnea on active duty. My records showed I did and I that I had the UPPP surgery, which is solely done to correct sleep apnea. I was turned down by the VA for lack of enough evidence. I had a sleep study done that year and it showed severe sleep apnea. The test was done by The Pittsburgh VA. We did find the phrase sleep apnea in my records during active duty because they hadn’t looked very hard. Even if it was not there, and once again it was, the surgery was not used for any other reason than to fix sleep apnea. The surgery was deemed so unsuccessful at fixing sleep apnea that they don’t do it anymore. (You can beg for it on the off chance you might get some relief from some symptoms, but most good surgeons agree that it doesn’t work at all.) Then they said the sleep apnea I have now, that wasn’t shown on active duty, was probably caused by obesity. I weighed 185 when I retired and now 26 years later I am in good shape and have gained about 15 pounds. I guarantee it did not all go to my throat. I have appealed the decision and it got denied again. A lot of people have said I deserve it . I am appealing again. I have a face to face appeal scheduled some time in the next 75 years. I really think they are hoping I die before they listen to me so this will all go away. I was stationed at George AFB in the high desert in 1975 for about 3 years. Then I was at Williams AFB in Mesa, AZ. till 1979. I was at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX from 1984 till 1987. I was told that living in the desert for 7 years and eating all that sand should carry some weight but I really don’t know. I flew jets the whole time I was on active duty. I would like some help from someone. I don’t know when sleep apnea became a disability. My retirement physical did not mention it. It did note I had a lot of spinal injuries including a broken back that I didn’t even know about till the final x-rays. I had a lot of indicators since my retirement but I don’t think anyone will listen. I will have a VFW person attend my next appeal who may be able to help but no one is sure. I have had a lot of people say the VA will drag their feet on this and deny it yet again because they know the next appeal will cost a mint and few people take the risk. I know I deserve this because I fit all the criteria. I know I am going to need some help. The second appeal came back with so much extraneous bull that most of the people who have read it just say they just don’t want to do it no matter how much you deserve it. The VA is just trying to muddy the waters. I need some ideas and some good help. Thanks for listening.

  5. I was diagnosed with sleep apnea about two years ago at VA hospital. I filed a claimed but was denied.

    1. Hey James,
      I’m sad to hear that you’re have a difficult time with your claim. Keep in mind that once your claim has been denied, you have an option to appeal the denial. Not sure what the process would be, or if it would do any good, but it’s worth a try!

      For questions, or concerns, we can be reached at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com.

      We wish you the best!

  6. I just filed for sleep apnea compensation with the FAB as my rep. I was given a sleep study while on active duty because of the excessive snoring as well as falling asleep while driving and at other inopportune times. After diagnosis I was operated on at Portsmouth Naval Hospital. My uvula was cut and reduced in size. Operation was deemed a success, but the pain afterwards was extreme. My snoring was mildly reduced only temporary. Snoring returned with a vengeance after I retired. Just recently I was again given a sleep study which diagnosed IS A again. This time I was prescribed a CPAP. From the above comments it seems remote as to whether I will be compensated. I also have combat related PTSD, as well as AO related prostate cancer which has not been treated.

    1. Hi James,
      Thank you for your service to our country! I’m sorry to hear your surgery only provided temporary relief and I certainly, hope you’re compensated for your Sleep Apnea diagnosis.

      Please feel free to reach us with any questions, or concerns at: 1-800-356-5221, or you may e-mail us at: cpap@cpap.com.

      Be safe and have a wonderful weekend!

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