While asthma and sleep apnea often can be linked as respiratory disorders, their symptoms are different enough that many veterans wonder if they can receive separate VA disability ratings for each.
Links Between Asthma and Sleep Apnea
Many studies have now shown that people who have asthma are more likely to develop obstructive sleep apnea. This risk is almost 40% greater for them than for people with no asthma.
Some of this is due to the use of systemic steroids in treating asthma. Long-term use of these steroids can cause upper airway muscles to weaken which may result in impaired function. This issue is directly related to obstructive sleep apnea. When throat muscles have weakened because of asthma, the tendency for the throat to collapse and obstruct the airway increases.
Because of this the longer a veteran has asthma the higher the likelihood is that they will develop sleep apnea.
VA Regulations for Respiratory Conditions
Unfortunately for those veterans suffering from both asthma and sleep apnea, the VA has put in place a special regulation preventing veterans from being rated for multiple respiratory conditions. That regulation is 38 C.F.R. §4.96, and it states that when a veteran has their claim approved and is granted service-connection for multiple respiratory conditions, they will be given a rating only for the predominant condition.
According to the VA, this does not mean the condition with the most severe symptoms, but rather the condition that may receive the highest possible rating.
Since both sleep apnea and asthma can be rated as high as 100% at their most severe, the veteran making a claim can expect to be rated according to the condition which is causing them the worse symptoms.
For instance, if their sleep apnea is considered to receive a 30% rating but their asthma is considered at 60%, the veteran will be assigned a 60% rating. Military Disability Made Easy is an awesome resource for this.
It should be noted that there have been instances where the VA will further look at the symptoms from sleep apnea in order to determine if those symptoms would increase the disability rating under the rating code for asthma.
There is more than one way to get to a 100% rating. In regards to asthma and sleep apnea, the combined symptoms may qualify you for an extra schedular rating.
An extra schedular rating is not easy to obtain, but it can be done by proving that your condition is so severe, or unusual, that it does not fit under the current breakdown of ratings for your disability.
The next option is to seek a secondary rating. With secondary conditions, you do have options. This could be another condition that has caused by sleep apnea. There have been instances where sleep apnea has been granted a secondary service-connection disability rating to a veteran’s asthma. Getting connected with a good medical team can help you with this – they will be able to review your records and see what your options are!
Because of regulation 38 C.F.R. §4.96, your chance of obtaining a higher rating for suffering from both asthma and sleep apnea can be very difficult to do. This is unfortunate, especially as it has become more clear that many people suffer from both.
But just because it is difficult does not mean it is impossible to get the rating you deserve. If you are suffering from the symptoms of both these respiratory conditions, you deserve to get the benefits from their combined impact on your life.
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About VA Claims Insider
VA Claims insider is an education-based coaching/consulting company. We’re here for disabled veterans exploring eligibility for increased VA disability benefits and who wish to learn more about that process. We also connect veterans with independent medical professionals in our referral network for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible Independent Medical Opinions & Nexus Statements (Medical Nexus Letters) for a wide range of disability conditions.