Sleep Apnea

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What is Sleep Apnea?

Everything You Need to Know about Sleep Apnea as a Disabled Veteran

Sleep apnea is the most common respiratory disability among VA disability recipients. More than 570,000 veterans–including more than 300,000 veterans who served in the global war on terror–are receiving VA disability in whole or part due to sleep apnea. Still, many veterans don’t realize that their sleep apnea may be service connected, or that they might qualify for VA disability benefits. 

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition that causes a person to stop breathing while they are sleeping. There are two distinct types of sleep apnea. A third type occurs when someone suffers from both types simultaneously.

The two distinct types are: 

  • Obstructive Sleep Apnea: In obstructive sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted when muscles relax during sleep, briefly blocking the airway. This is by far the most common type of sleep apnea. 
  • Central Sleep Apnea: Like obstructive sleep apnea, central sleep apnea involves brief periods in which the person suffering from the condition stops breathing during sleep. However the cause is different: with central sleep apnea, breathing is interrupted when the brain fails to send the required signals to regulate breathing. 

If the same patient suffers from both types of sleep apnea at the same time, the condition is described as complex sleep apnea. 

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can cause a wide range of symptoms, some of which you might not automatically associate with the condition.

Some examples include: 

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking up gasping for air
  • Insomnia
  • Dry mouth on waking
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Irritability

Sleep apnea can also increase the risk that you’ll suffer from other medical conditions, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiac issues, chronic kidney problems, asthma, strokes, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), depression, metabolic syndrome and Type II diabetes. 

Sleep Apnea is Common in Veterans

Hundreds of thousands of veterans are receiving VA disability benefits for sleep apnea, but data suggests that number represents a fraction of military veterans suffering from sleep apnea. One recent study conducted by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio found a 30-fold increase in the incidence of sleep apnea in veterans from 2005 to 2019. 

Obviously, not all of those veterans are receiving VA disability benefits for the condition. In some cases, that’s because the condition isn’t service connected, or because the veteran hasn’t been diagnosed. But, in other cases, the veteran might be entitled to VA disability benefits and not yet receiving them.

Some reasons a veteran who qualifies for VA disability for sleep apnea might not be receiving benefits include: 

  • The veteran not knowing that sleep apnea is a VA-recognized disability
  • The veteran not realizing that their sleep apnea may be service-connected
  • The veteran being denied benefits because sufficient evidence wasn’t provided

Disability Ratings for Sleep Apnea

As of May, 2024, the possible VA disability ratings for sleep apnea are 0%, 30%, 50% and 100%. A veteran who requires the use of a CPAP machine or similar device is rated at 50%. However, changes are on the horizon, and they won’t be good for many veterans suffering from sleep apnea. 

The proposed new rating system would eliminate that 30% rating and instead include the option of a 10% disability rating. In addition, the standard for a 50% disability rating would change significantly, reducing the number of veterans who would qualify for that rating. Instead of qualifying at the 50% level if you required the use of a CPAP machine, that rating would only be available if treatment was ineffective or the veteran was unable to undergo the prescribed treatment due to other medical conditions or limitations. 

In short, if you’re reading this while the original ratings schedule is still in effect, you’ll want to get your claim underway as quickly as possible. 

Next Steps for Veterans with Sleep Apnea

To receive VA disability benefits for sleep apnea, you will need to prove that you suffer from sleep apnea, and that your sleep apnea is service connected. You will also need to provide sufficient medical documentation to show the level of impairment caused by your condition. 

Your next steps will depend on whether you already have a diagnosis and supporting medical records. If you believe you’re suffering from sleep apnea but have not yet been diagnosed, getting a diagnosis is the first step. This will typically involve a sleep study. 

Next, you’ll need to gather records to support your claim. That includes medical records, of course, but you’ll need more. 

Sleep Apnea is Not Presumed Service Connected

Despite the high incidence of sleep apnea among military veterans–especially those who served in certain times and places–the VA currently does not presume a service connection for sleep apnea. Instead, it will be up to the veteran to show that connection. 

This will usually involve a combination of showing that you were exposed to something that causes or increases the risk of sleep apnea during your military service, and then establishing the medical connection between that exposure and the increased risk of the condition. This can often be accomplished through a nexus letter from a medical professional. Depending on the circumstances, you may need additional information to establish when and how you were exposed, and that your sleep apnea started or worsened after that exposure. 

If this sounds like a lot to manage, you’re not wrong. Fortunately, you don’t have to become an expert in the VA disability benefits application process, and you don’t have to do all the work on your own.  

An Experienced VA Disability Benefits Advocate Can Help

At Veterans Help Group, our advocates are fully dedicated to helping disabled veterans and their families secure the benefits they deserve. They have deep knowledge of the VA disability claims process, and know what type of evidence is required to establish a claim, and to support an appropriate disability rating. 

To learn more about how we can help prepare the strongest possible disability claim, appeal a denial, or pursue a higher disability rating, call 855-855-8992 or fill out our contact form here. 

Learn More Here:

Why we Practice for Veterans with Sleep Apnea

22% of veterans suffer from Sleep Apnea, however, not all of them will get disability benefits for sleep apnea because the VA errs. Understandably, when the VA wrongly denies a veteran’s case, some veterans get frustrated and drop their claim. We at VETERANS HELP GROUP, want every veteran who has sleep apnea because of their time in service, to get benefits for their condition. Veterans fight for us while in service, and we fight for veterans to get the benefits they deserve.


    How Sleep Apnea impacts veterans

    Sleep impacts a person’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Sleep is required to function. How sleep apnea can impact a veteran differs from person to person; however, in some cases, the veteran is unable to work because of the extent of hypersomnia and difficulty focusing. One out of five veterans has obstructive sleep apnea, and the number has been increasing over the years. Veterans Help Group understands how detrimental sleep apnea can be in a veteran’s life, we want to help.

    Secondary Conditions

    Because sleep apnea restricts a veteran’s ability to breath, reducing the oxygen levels in your blood, there are many negative effects of this condition. If your sleep apnea is service-connected, it is important that you consider if it has caused or aggravated any of the conditions below.


    • Asthma
    • Depression
    • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
    • Heart Disease
    • Hypertension
    • PTSD
    • Sinusitis & Rhinitis
    • Stroke
    • Type 2 Diabetes
    • Metabolic Syndrome


    Our Expertise

    After being in practice for 24 years, Veterans Help Group has gained the experience required to cultivate thorough techniques of practice. We have strategies to support our clients through every step of the appeals process. While proving a sleep apnea claim can be overwhelming, our knowledgeable advocates know what to look for and how to support your claim. For example, because of our experience in the area of sleep apnea, our advocates know that one of the best ways to establish service connection is if the client is able to provide a name of a buddy in service who slept next to our client and can testify as to any of the hallmark sleep apnea symptoms. Thus, when building the case for one of our client’s our advocates learned the name and phone number of one of our client’s bunk-mates, called, and obtained a statement. This bunkmate explained that the client was an incredibly loud snorer on the ship demonstrating our client’s service connection. Because we were able to submit the bunkmate’s statement with the brief, the Board granted service connection for sleep apnea citing the buddy statement as the reason.

    Steps to Take

    1. File a claim.
    2. Undergo a sleep study & obtain a sleep apnea diagnosis.
    3. Do you have proof in your military records of your sleep apnea?
    4. If not, can you get a statement from a friend or significant other who knows what you sound like when you sleep post-service or someone you bunked with while in service.
    5. Obtain a medical opinion that supports that sleep apnea is connected to your time in service or another service-connected condition.
    6. Call Veterans Help Group or click the button below for a free case evaluation.


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