One of the more common claims that we see here at VA Claims Insider that veterans are trying to get service-connected is sleep apnea. So, what is sleep apnea? According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is defined as a potentially dangerous sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you are known to snore loudly and feel tired during the day even after a full night’s sleep, there’s a strong chance you may have sleep apnea.
There are three main types of sleep apnea which I will go through.
1. Obstructive sleep apnea
2. Central Sleep Apnea
3. Complex sleep apnea syndrome
The most common sleep apnea seen with veterans is Obstructive sleep apnea. This is when the throat muscles relax causing your airway to not open properly during your sleep.
Some of the more common symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Episodes in which you stop breathing during sleep — which would be reported by another person
- Gasping for air during sleep
- Awakening with a dry mouth
- Morning headache
- Difficulty staying asleep (insomnia)
- Excessive daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Difficulty paying attention while awake
If you experience any of these symptoms and have yet to be tested for sleep apnea, do so immediately. Regardless if you go forward with a disability claim for the condition or not the most important thing is to treat the condition if it is determined that you do have it.
Risks with Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea can cause many complications to one’s health. These complications can include:
- Daytime fatigue. The repeated awakenings associated with sleep apnea make normal, restorative sleep impossible, making severe daytime drowsiness, fatigue and irritability likely.
- High blood pressure or heart problems. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels that occur during sleep apnea increase blood pressure and strain the cardiovascular system. Having obstructive sleep apnea increases your risk of high blood pressure (hypertension).
The condition might also increase your risk of recurrent heart attack, stroke and abnormal heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation. If you have heart disease, multiple episodes of low blood oxygen (hypoxia or hypoxemia) can lead to sudden death from an irregular heartbeat.
- An impact on mental health. Having sleep apnea can affect a person’s mental health. It is not uncommon for someone with sleep apnea to feel quick-tempered, moody or depressed and have anxiety.
- Type 2 diabetes. Having sleep apnea increases your risk of developing insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
- Metabolic syndrome. This disorder, which includes high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and increased waist circumference, is linked to a higher risk of heart disease.
- Complications with medications and surgery. Obstructive sleep apnea is also a concern with certain medications and general anesthesia. People with sleep apnea might be more likely to have complications after major surgery because they’re prone to breathing problems, especially when sedated and lying on their backs.
- Liver problems. People with sleep apnea are more likely to have abnormal results on liver function tests, and their livers are more likely to show signs of scarring (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)
Military service and Sleep Apnea
Research clearly shows that it is not uncommon for many vets to leave the military and experience sleep issues. Unfortunately, these sleep issues may have gone undetected and without treatments for years. In the case with sleep apnea, this was a condition that was not even diagnosed much for veterans until the 1990s. If you served prior to that and had sleep apnea chances are it was ignored and not correctly diagnosed.
As a result, this condition would not be recorded in the veteran’s military medical records which, as we know, it is the primary means on how the VA ties a condition to one’s military service. So, if the condition was not properly diagnosed during your time in the military does that mean a veteran will be unable to get the condition service-connected? The answer is no.
How to file
Although, sleep apnea is one of the harder conditions to get rated on unless there is a clear diagnosis in one’s medical records it is not impossible. Here are the steps that are needed to filing a successful sleep apnea claim and improving your chances of getting it rated.
- You must have a medical diagnosis of the condition. Veterans cannot merely complain about the symptoms and file for the condition. A veteran looking to file for sleep apnea should have done a sleep test at an approved sleep clinic and or at your own home using a certified home test provided by a sleep lab.
- Obtain a nexus letter from a medical professional to provide their opinion and argue that your condition is related to your military service. Although it’s not necessary to tie sleep apnea as a secondary condition, our research shows that this tactic offers a greater chance of success than merely filling it as a direct service-connected condition. There are a number of conditions that sleep apnea have been tied to as secondary where vets have won their claims off of. These conditions include the following:
- PTSD and or other mental health conditions
- Heart Disease and hypertension
- Acid Reflux
- Chronic Rhinitis
- Type II Diabetes
- Submit a personal statement that outlines when you believe the condition started and how your military time made the condition worst. In your personal statement make sure also to cover when you were diagnosed, your severity, and what type of treatment you are on. If diagnosed with sleep apnea and you are prescribed a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine make sure you have your doctor say it is required for you. This would ensure that you get the 50% rating for the condition and not a 30% rating or lower.
- Finally, for your statement, you want to explain how the condition negatively impacts your life and provides examples of this. In addition to your own personal statement, you want to get buddy letters from family and friends who can corroborate your condition. Those who knew you during your time in service before the condition started and afterward would be the ones most effective for writing a letter.
In conclusion, no submitted claim is guaranteed to win. However, when submitting a claim, the veteran’s goal should always be to submit it with the best chances of getting the condition approved. Following, our best practice has benefited many of our clients have been fortunate to pick up the rating. If you need a nexus letter for sleep apnea, don’t hesitate to reach out to Veteran Claims Insider. Our VCEs and the medical team we work with have the experience and medical expertise to build an outstanding sleep apnea claim for you.
Allen Magtibay is apart of VA Claims Insider Team and a retired Army Disabled Veteran. You can contact him at [email protected]
– a portion of the information on this blog was gathered from the Mayo Clinic’s website.