How to Connect Sleep Apnea to Military Service

Sleep apnea comes in different forms, but the most common type with veterans is Obstructive Sleep Apnea. If you have this condition, it causes the throat muscles to relax while sleeping.  Your airway narrows and closes, leading to pauses in the breathing cycle.  These pauses can happen several times an hour when the apnea is severe.

Here are some common symptoms of sleep apnea:

  • Snoring
  • Breathing stops
  • Waking up gasping for air
  • Dry mouth
  • Morning headaches
  • Daytime drowsiness

Contrary to the myth, sleep apnea does not need to be diagnosed while on active duty. Just think about our veterans from older eras.  Medical professionals did not have the medical capabilities to perform sleep study testing when they served.

How Can Sleep Apnea be Filed?

If you were diagnosed with this condition while in the military, you have a straight forward shot for service connection. However, most of the time, sleep apnea is a secondary claim.

Veterans with deviated septums can have clear cases for a secondary sleep apnea claim. But most veterans are not service-connected for this sinus condition.

Instead, the leading cause of sleep apnea is weight gain. Weight gain can be tied to several different conditions. If you are already service-connected for your knees or your back, you are likely not as active as you once were. Hence, the weight gain.  

The same can be said about service-connected mental health conditions. Many Veterans suffering from emotional distress overeat and lack the motivation to work out.

Therefore, sleep apnea can be filed secondary to either a musculoskeletal condition with weight gain or a mental health condition with weight gain.

Do I Need a CPAP Machine to be Service-Connected?

You do not have to be prescribed a CPAP machine to be service-connected for sleep apnea. However, if you use one, it does provide you with a higher rating. The VA uses two options for rating most sleep apnea claims. If you use a CPAP machine, then this should warrant a 50% rating. Without a CPAP machine, the VA assigns a 30% rating.

Here’s what the 38CFR lists for sleep apnea:

6847 Sleep Apnea Syndromes (Obstructive, Central, Mixed):
Chronic respiratory failure with carbon dioxide retention or cor pulmonale, or; requires tracheostomy 100
Requires use of breathing assistance device such as continuous airway pressure (CPAP) machine 50
Persistent day-time hypersomnolence 30
Asymptomatic but with documented sleep disorder breathing 0

Secondary Claims to Sleep Apnea

Once sleep apnea is service-connected, this opens the door for you to file other secondary claims you may want to make. Sleep apnea can be your link or nexus for filing claims for:

  • Headaches
  • GERD
  • Erectile Dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Nocturia
  • Heart Conditions

Conclusion

Sleep apnea is a high-value claim in the VA world of ratings.  Not only does the VA provide compensation, but once you receive a service-connection for it, it provides a way to get other disabilities to service-connected.

Strategic Veteran would like to help you sort out what you may be able to claim and the best way to go about it.  We’re Veterans, just like you, who’ve learned how to navigate within the VA system.  We offer free resources and expertise to empower all Veterans.  Give us a call at 800-477-9027 to see if we can help you.