How Is Sleep Apnea Related To PTSD?
There are several different types of sleep apnea, and every person with sleep apnea experiences the condition to differing degrees of severity. Considering that around 20 percent of veterans are diagnosed with sleep apnea at some point in their lifetime, the VA has developed a schedular disability rating system for sleep apnea so that veterans whose sleep apnea was caused by their service can receive compensation.
There are a variety of conditions that occur in tandem with sleep apnea, but one of the most interesting ones among veterans is the relationship between sleep apnea and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Veterans are up to three times more likely to have PTSD than the general population. Men, who represent a large percentage of the veteran population, are also more likely than women to develop sleep apnea. This connection between PTSD prevalence in the military and the gender-predisposition of men to develop sleep apnea is part of what contributes to the high rates of sleep apnea among veterans with PTSD.
Veterans with more serious PTSD symptoms have also been found to have an increased risk of sleep disordered breathing, of which sleep apnea is the most prominent type. This in turn makes their PTSD symptoms more severe, because the lack of REM sleep they get due to their sleep apnea can impair both their mood and decision making. While the mechanism linking sleep disordered breathing and PTSD is not fully understood, the overwhelming amount of clinical evidence suggesting there is a causal connection between the two conditions is part of why the VA allows sleep apnea to be claimed as a secondary condition to PTSD.
Getting VA Disability Benefits For Sleep Apnea Secondary To PTSD
Under 38 CFR § 3.310, any disabilities that are caused or made more severe by a service-connected disability are subject to service connection and compensation. While some disabilities that are secondarily service connected are evaluated under the same schedular disability rating as the condition that caused them, sleep apnea that is service connected secondary to PTSD is always evaluated separately and assigned its own schedular disability rating.
In order to get service connection for sleep apnea secondary to PTSD, the veteran must establish a nexus between the two conditions. This means providing the VA with evidence that his or her sleep apnea is the result of his or her PTSD. In order to do this, some examples of evidence that could be provided are (1) medical records that show the overlapping onset of the veteran’s PTSD and sleep apnea symptoms and (2) a medical opinion letter from a physician stating that the veteran’s sleep apnea is at least as likely as not caused by his or her PTSD.
How The VA Rates Sleep Apnea
Under 38 CFR § 4.97, the VA rates sleep apnea based on the severity of the condition and/or the type of treatment required.
Diagnostic Code 6847: Sleep Apnea Syndromes (Obstructive, Central, Mixed)
- 100 – Chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonale, or; requires tracheostomy
- 50 – Requires use of breathing assistance device such as continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machine
- 30 – Persistent day-time hypersomnolence
- 0 – Asymptomatic but with documented sleep disorder breathing
Veterans who are unable to work due to their sleep apnea are eligible for a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) rating no matter what their total schedular disability rating is. A TDIU rating pays veterans at the 100 percent compensation rate so long as they are unable to follow a substantially gainful occupation as a result of their service connected condition(s).
Get Help With Your Sleep Apnea Claim
If you have sleep apnea and PTSD and are looking to get secondary service connection for your condition, please contact our office today. Our experienced veterans disability attorneys are ready to help you get the compensation you deserve.