What to Know before Filing a Sleep Apnea Claim as a Veteran

If you are a veteran suffering from any form of sleep apnea as a direct result of your active-duty military service, you may be entitled to compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Understanding whether your sleep apnea qualifies for VA disability benefits and how to get the information needed to prove entitlement to service-connection can be challenging.

For information on what you need to know before filing a sleep apnea claim as a veteran, do not hesitate to contact our firm. Our VA disability attorneys can help you better understand what you could be entitled to for service-connected sleep apnea.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your breathing to be interrupted repeatedly throughout the night. Some of the most common symptoms associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Gasping for air while sleeping
  • Loud snoring
  • Morning headaches
  • Excessive daytime sleepiness

The three main types of sleep apnea are obstructive, central, and complex (mixed). Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the throat muscles relax and causes the airway to be blocked during sleep.

Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain cannot send the proper signals to the muscles in your body that control breathing. Lastly, complex (mixed) sleep apnea syndrome is characterized by a mixture of both obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea symptoms.

Obtaining a Sleep Apnea Diagnosis

Diagnosing sleep apnea requires a sleep study. To confirm sleep apnea and eligibility for disability compensation, the VA requires evidence to verify the existence and scope of your disability.

When your sleep is continually disrupted because of a condition that leads your body to stop breathing, you may have sleep apnea. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, you will have to undergo a sleep study test to reach a diagnosis. The sleep study’s technicians will test the following factors for any irregularities:

  • Brain waves
  • Heart rate
  • Eye movement
  • Blood oxygen level
  • Breathing pattern
  • Limb movement

Monitoring your breathing and other body functions will confirm whether you have sleep apnea or any other sleep-related disorders. Individuals who are diagnosed with sleep apnea after the study are then referred to an ear, nose, and throat doctor to rule out possible causes, as well as a cardiologist who will examine their nervous system to identify potential causes of sleep apnea.

How Might Sleep Apnea be Related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a condition that occurs in individuals who have witnessed a distressing, traumatic, or shocking event. Many active servicemembers and veterans develop PTSD as a result of experiencing or witnessing something traumatic during their active-duty service.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Re-experiencing trauma through intrusive thoughts, recurrent memories, flashbacks, and nightmares
  • Difficulty sleeping and concentrating
  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

These symptoms can be debilitating and could have a negative impact on a veteran’s life.

Studies indicate that individuals who suffer from PTSD have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea. Additionally, the more severe a person’s PTSD is, the more severe their sleep apnea could be. There is a strong correlation between PTSD and sleep apnea in veterans, as many factors that could aggravate PTSD could also aggravate sleep apnea.

Establishing Service Connection for Sleep Apnea

A veteran seeking disability benefits from the VA must demonstrate three things to prove entitlement to service connection for their sleep apnea:

  • A current, diagnosed condition
  • An in-service event, injury, or illness
  • A nexus (link) between the diagnosed condition and the in-service event

A former servicemember who successfully proves connection to service by meeting these criteria may be awarded VA disability benefits for their sleep apnea.

Veterans who are unable to link their sleep apnea to a specific in-service event may pursue secondary service connection. In other words, those who were diagnosed PTSD and have since developed sleep apnea may be able to establish secondary service connections. To succeed in these circumstances, a medical expert’s opinion has to link a former servicemember’s secondary disability to their already service-connected disability for the veteran to qualify for benefits.

Ask a Lawyer what You Need to Know about Filing a Sleep Apnea Claim as a Veteran

Jan Dils, a seasoned veterans’ disability lawyer, is here to help you if you are struggling through the disability benefits process for sleep apnea. Our team is committed to helping former servicemembers fight for their right to receive disability compensation after serving our country. Give us a call to schedule a consultation and to hear how we could help you today.

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