Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder which is best known for causing excessive daytime sleepiness, also known as hyper-somnolence. Individuals with narcolepsy often experience sudden bouts of sleep, or struggle to stay awake for extended periods of time regardless of time of day, location, or external stimuli. A person with narcolepsy may, for example, fall asleep at a concert despite the noise and activity surrounding them. Other symptoms of narcolepsy can include cataplexy [sudden loss of muscle tone], sleep paralysis, hallucinations, fragmented sleep and insomnia, or automatic behaviors which occur when a person falls asleep but continues to participate in an activity several seconds to several minutes after they have fallen asleep. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that anywhere from 135,000 to 200,000 people in the United States have narcolepsy.
There are two types of narcolepsy, which are defined by the presence of cataplexy. Type 1 narcolepsy occurs with cataplexy, while type 2 occurs without cataplexy. Misdiagnosis between epilepsy and narcolepsy can be common as cataplexy can resemble a seizure. Attacks of cataplexy may be mild and nearly unnoticeable, or they can present as a total collapse of the body.
A veteran may have narcolepsy as a result of genetics, autoimmune disorders, or brain injuries. Though narcolepsy is not entirely understood by the medical field today, it is possible for a veteran to be service connected for this condition.
Direct Service Connection
In order to gain service connection for narcolepsy a veteran typically has to have the following:
- A current narcolepsy diagnosis
- An event, injury, or illness that occurred during the veteran’s time in the service which led to the development of narcolepsy or aggravated an existing diagnosis
- A medical nexus opinion illustrating the link between your narcolepsy and a veteran’s time in service
How the VA Rates Narcolepsy
Under 38 CFR § 4.123a, the VA evaluates narcolepsy using the disability rating schedule that is used for neurological conditions. More specifically, narcolepsy is rated analogously as a convulsive disorder such as epilepsy, petit mal. VA ratings officers determine the severity of the condition based on the ratings listed below.
Diagnostic Code 8911: Epilepsy, petit mal
General Rating Formula for Major and Minor Epileptic Seizures:
- 100 – Averaging at least major seizure per month over the last year
- 80 – Averaging at least one major seizure in three months over the last year, or more than 10 minor seizures weekly
- 60 – Averaging at least 1 major seizure in 4 months over the last year; or 9-10 minor seizures per week
- 40 – At least 1 major seizure in the last 6 months or 2 in the last year; or averaging at least 5 to 8 minor seizures weekly
- 20 – At least 1 major seizure in the last 2 years; or at least 2 minor seizures in the last 6 months
- 10 – a confirmed diagnosis of epilepsy with a history of seizures
Note: If continuous medication is necessary for the control of epilepsy, the minimum evaluation will be 10 percent.
The VA evaluates a veteran’s disability claim for narcolepsy based on the frequency that a veteran experiences an episode. However, when applying for disability it is important to define one’s condition by describing the frequency and severity of symptoms in terms of how they impact one’s personal and professional life. In addition to the major symptoms of daytime sleepiness and sudden “attacks” of sleep, a veteran may also experience:
- Changes in mood
- Memory difficulties
- Inability to focus
- Withdrawal from social life
- Changes in REM sleep
As narcolepsy has the potential to severely restrict a veteran’s professional life, it may be in their best interest to apply for a Total Disability Based on Unemployability (TDIU) rating.
Contact The Veteran’s Law Office About Your Narcolepsy Claim
If you are a veteran and believe your narcolepsy was aggravated by or began during your military service, please contact our office for a free evaluation. Our team has extensive experience representing veterans throughout all stages of the claims process.