For years, the “elephant in the room” in the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities has been sleep apnea. However, there has been a growing controversy over the amount of money the VA pays veterans afflicted with this condition, and an increasing lobby to get rid of compensation for it. Recent articles have stated that in the year 2013, the VA paid close to $2 billion for sleep apnea claims alone. As a result of the controversy, the VA has been strongly urged to reevaluate the rating schedule for this condition, which could potentially result in important changes down the line for veterans.
If you are a veteran who suffers from sleep apnea or suspect that you may have this condition, there are some important facts you should know.
First, you should know that sleep apnea is frequently undiagnosed and not easily identified by doctors during routine office visits. This is a condition that occurs only during sleep, so it is not uncommon for a person to have sleep apnea and not know it, until a bed partner or family member alerts him/her to the symptoms. Sleep studies are often needed in order for a definitive diagnosis to be made.
Second, if you are contemplating filing a VA disability claim, it is important to document the symptoms and treatment so the condition can be adequately rated. This means, undergoing sleep studies and following up with the proper doctors. It is beneficial to keep sleep diaries to document any symptoms or treatments, such as chronic fatigue, persistent daytime hypersomnolence (i.e. excessive daytime sleepiness), or use of a CPAP machine. If sleep apnea prevents you from working or significantly interferes with your work, that should also be documented. Like most conditions, there is a tiered rating system for sleep apnea. If the condition is asymptomatic, then a zero percent rating is warranted. However, if a breathing device is needed, then a 50 percent rating is assigned. So the treatment and symptoms make a difference.
Lastly, if you believe your sleep apnea is related to your military service, you should file a claim for this disability right away. This could mean that you suffered from diagnosed sleep apnea during service, or even if there was not a formal diagnosis, you could have experienced apnea symptoms during service, or been diagnosed post service but the apnea is secondary to another service connected condition, such as PTSD. In either case, it is important to file the claim right away to preserve the effective date, and assuming service connection is granted, if the ratings change in the future, veterans who are rated under the current schedule will be grandfathered in.