The Silent Killer: Ensuring You Get the Best Rating for Your Sleep Apnea
If you are a Veteran that suffers from sleep apnea, but have been denied or given a low rating for your disability, then you now know that saying you have sleep apnea isn’t enough. A mistake a Veteran can make is to submit their claim to the VA without sufficient or proper evidence and then hope that whoever examines it sees their sleep apnea is service-connected. However, even if they are granted service-connection, the rating might not be what they had hoped for and the VA will not go out of their way to ensure that the Veteran gets the maximum rating they deserve, as they are busy with other Veterans.
To ensure that you get the rating you deserve, you must first confirm that you actually have sleep apnea or are simply snoring loudly. Although, frequent loud snoring is a symptom of sleep apnea, it is NOT sleep apnea itself and you need more than this to demonstrate you have it. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) sleep apnea occurs when a person's breathing is interrupted during sleep. There are different types of sleep apnea, the most common being obstructive and central. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the upper airway becomes blocked repeatedly during sleep, reducing or completely stopping airflow. Whereas, central sleep apnea occurs if the brain does not send the signals needed to trigger breathe. The effects of untreated sleep apnea are dangerous as it can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, or depression, so if you suspect you have it, it is best to get tested as soon as possible. To diagnose your sleep apnea a polysomnogram is required. A polysomnogram is a multiple-component test that electronically transmits and records specific physical activities while you sleep. Without this, a maximum rating is impossible, as a sleep specialist cannot determine if you suffer from sleep apnea or another sleeping disorder.
Now if you are sure you have sleep apnea and want to start filing your claim or you’ve filed your claim and want to appeal, the next step you must take is to file your claim the right way. It is important to find out what evidence you need to put in your claim, not only what you think is needed or sufficient, but what the VA wants to see. With this evidence, you must make reasonable arguments that clearly explain to the VA why your sleep apnea is service-connected. Not only will this make your claim go faster, it will make it harder for the VA to deny it or give you a low rating.
What if you are a Veteran who has repeatedly filed their claim and been denied each time? Our best advice is not to stress about this, as it will only make things worse, but try to see why each claim was denied and learn from those mistakes. Maybe, you find out the problem wasn’t you, but a missing document the VA never received. Either way the best thing to do is get your C-file, go through everything related to your sleep apnea claim, and find what is missing. Determine what in your file is keeping the VA from making the connection between our sleep apnea and your military service. This analysis can take considerable creativity in some cases.
Once you’ve done these things, you must determine what is the best way to service-connect your sleep apnea. As I have written, you must do more than state, “I have sleep apnea caused by my time in the military.” What you must do is find the correct connection with your sleep apnea, for example you were diagnosed with PTSD and PTSD has been known to cause sleep apnea is some Veterans. Or you were exposed to a chemical that caused lung problems which has also caused you to develop sleep apnea. There are various medical conditions among Veterans that have been known to cause it and it is up to you to determine which ones will help you argue your case better.
Finally, if your sleep apnea is so disrupting that it is impacting your ability to work, don’t be afraid to tell the VA. If proven, you might be able to get total disability due to individual unemployability (TDIU), and receive a 100% rating depending on the evidence you provide.
Besides the a good argument for service-connection, solid medical evidence is also necessary. Frequently the medical evidence is what can win the appeal.
If you suffer from sleep apnea and want to appeal your decision from the VA, give our office a call and we will see if we can help.