Sleep apnea is a common medical condition that can be caused by many different factors, including conditions like Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this blog post, we will discuss how VA diagnoses sleep apnea in veterans for the purposes of VA disability compensation and the relationship between sleep apnea and sleep apnea-related PTSD.
We will also focus on getting benefits (service-connecting) Sleep Apnea secondary to PTSD for the purposes of VA disability claims . If you are a veteran who suffers from sleep apnea or similar sleep disorders, then you may qualify for VA disability benefits. If you have sleep apnea and PTSD, continue reading.
Common Types of Sleep Apnea
There are three common forms of sleep apnea that are seen in veterans. The first is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when your airway collapses during sleep and you stop breathing for a short time due to your throat muscles relaxing too much. During this time, your body re-opens the airway by waking up just enough to take in a breath.
Many people with this type of sleep apnea do not even realize they have it until someone else tells them. Many veterans known as loud snorers by their buddies think they are sleeping well but in reality, they are only getting short spurts of disturbed sleep throughout the night and are experiencing sleep deprivation due to the veteran’s sleep apnea.
The second type is central sleep apnea, which occurs when your brain does not send signals to your muscles to breathe during sleep. This can happen due to a problem with your nervous system. The third type is mixed sleep apnea, which occurs when you have both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Medical research shows that due to obstructive sleep apnea we see decreased quality of REM sleep; this can lead to many other medical problems like PTSD.
What causes Sleep Apnea?
Veterans are at an increased risk of developing sleep apnea due to various risk factors like weight gain leading to obesity, hypertension, and/or high blood pressure. Additionally, smoking, substance abuse, and alcohol abuse may contribute to sleep apnea. OSA is also commonly seen as a secondary condition in veterans who have PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).
In fact, a recent study found that almost 60% of veterans with PTSD also suffer from sleep apnea. This is because people with PTSD often deal with chronic stress have problems relaxing and getting a full night’s sleep. Now, we’re not saying every veteran with PTSD will develop sleep apnea but it’s worth being aware!
This is just one example of how having a mental health condition like PTSD can impact your health. If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and you also have PTSD, then read on to learn more about VA disability benefits for both.
If you have depression or anxiety, you may also be at higher risk of sleep disordered breathing; the good news is that if you can prove a service connected condition then you may qualify for disability compensation.
How VA Diagnoses Sleep Apnea in Veterans
The first step we like to suggest (aside from starting with VA Form 21-526EZ) is to get a medical opinion from your doctor when it comes to proving a sleep apnea claim. You will need medical evidence that shows what type of sleep apnea you have (obstructive, central or mixed), how severe it is and if you can show how it was caused by your service in the military then even better.
VA will rate your disability based on the type of disorder you have and the severity of your sleep apnea symptoms. VA ratings are assigned based on the symptoms, not the condition itself.
For example, veterans who develop sleep apnea or PTSD must demonstrate how their symptoms are affecting their daily living and ability to work; a diagnosis is not enough for benefits.
The most common way to diagnose sleep apnea is with a polysomnogram (PSG) test, which measures things like your breathing, heart rate and oxygen levels. If you have central sleep apnea, then your doctor may also order a test called a home titration study. This test measures how well you respond to treatment for central sleep apnea.
How Sleep Apnea is Treated
There are many ways to treat sleep apnea, including lifestyle changes like losing weight, diet changes and/or quitting smoking and substance abuse. Additionally, using a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine at night or surgery (also known as CPAP therapy).
If you were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea before the Philips CPAP Recall, your doctor has likely suggested you use a CPAP machine at night in the past; that’s great for establishing your VA disability benefits.
It can help your VA disability claim if you can show that your doctor has prescribed at least one of these sleep disturbances treatments and that you are following directions regularly (CPAP adherence, taking prescribed meds, etc.).
What is PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can occur after you experience or witness a serious event. It doesn’t affect just veteran patients. One of the most common causes of PTSD in the veteran population is active duty military combat, but it can also happen from non-combat trauma like car accident or natural disaster.
Common Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Reoccurring nightmares about the traumatic event that you experienced or witnessed;
- Avoidance of situations and people that remind you of what happened; and/or
- Feelings of intense anger, guilt, or shame.
PTSD symptom severity is key in qualifying for specific VA disability ratings. They can have a serious impact on your quality of life and can make it difficult to do the things you used to enjoy.
Why is Sleep apnea Linked to PTSD?
There is a growing body of medical literature that suggests a high risk relationship between PTSD and sleep apnea patients. For example, one study found that veterans with PTSD were more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea than those without PTSD.
Another study found that treating veterans for their obstructive sleep apnea symptoms may improve their PTSD symptoms as well like depression type symptoms and sleep problems. If you have Sleep Apnea and Hypertension, this video below may be worth watching. If not, continue on for secondary connection.
Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD Service Connection VA Disability Benefits
VA may give you secondary service connection disability compensation if you can prove your secondary condition is caused by another primary condition that was service-connected. In other words, prove that your sleep apnea is secondary to service-connected traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
But keep in mind, the first condition needs to be service-connected as the primary disability before VA can consider it as a cause for your sleep apnea. Secondary conditions are a great way to prove service connection and get the proper VA disability rating.
To qualify for secondary service connection, you have to show that:
- You have a current medical diagnosis of sleep apnea; and
- There is evidence showing that you had another medical condition before you developed sleep apnea that was caused or made worse by your military service.
Proving Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD
Unfortunately, VA tends to deny many of these types of claims. If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and you also have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, then you probably know how difficult it is to prove sleep apnea secondary to PTSD to the VA.
This is because there is no medical test that can specifically show that sleep apnea is caused by the veteran’s PTSD. However, you can provide evidence to support your Sleep Apnea secondary to PTSD claim by submitting things like:
- A letter from your doctor stating that he or she believes that your sleep apnea is secondary to PTSD;
- Copies of all of your medical records related to both conditions; and
- Testimony from your family members and friends about how both conditions impact your life.
If you are a veteran who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and PTSD, then consider filing a secondary service connection claim for Sleep Apnea secondary to PTSD. If you need help with a denied decision, then contact our office today to speak to a Disability coordinator in regards to your VA disability benefits claim.
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