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The Silent Struggle: How VA Determines Ratings for Sleep Apnea

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Sleep apnea is a common but often underestimated medical condition that affects many veterans. It can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and overall health. Veterans who suffer from sleep apnea may experience symptoms like excessive daytime sleepiness, fatigue, and cognitive impairment. Understanding how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) determines ratings for sleep apnea is crucial for veterans seeking disability benefits and proper medical care.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Definition and Types

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. There are three primary types of sleep apnea:

Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA): This is the most common type of sleep apnea and occurs when the throat muscles relax excessively during sleep, leading to blocked airways.

Central Sleep Apnea (CSA): CSA is less common and involves the brain’s inability to send the right signals to the muscles responsible for controlling breathing.

Complex or Mixed Sleep Apnea: This type of sleep apnea is a combination of both OSA and CSA.

The most prevalent form, OSA, is often associated with veterans and will be the focus of this article.

Common symptoms of OSA include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Choking or gasping for air during sleep
  • Restless sleep
  • Frequent awakenings
  • Morning headaches
  • Daytime sleepiness and fatigue

VA Disability Ratings for Sleep Apnea

Understanding VA Disability Ratings

The VA assigns disability ratings to veterans based on the severity of their service-connected conditions. These ratings range from 0% to 100%, with higher ratings indicating more severe disabilities. A higher rating usually corresponds to increased disability benefits.

For veterans with sleep apnea, the VA uses a specific rating formula to determine the severity of the condition and assign an appropriate disability rating. This formula takes into account several factors.

Diagnostic Criteria

To qualify for a disability rating for sleep apnea, veterans must provide medical evidence that establishes the following:

A Current Diagnosis: The veteran must have a current diagnosis of sleep apnea from a qualified healthcare provider. This can be established through sleep studies and medical records.

Service Connection: There must be evidence linking the sleep apnea to the veteran’s military service. This can be achieved by demonstrating that the condition either began or worsened during service or that there is a nexus between the veteran’s service and the sleep apnea.

VA Ratings for Sleep Apnea

The VA assigns disability ratings for sleep apnea based on the frequency of respiratory events, such as apneas (complete cessation of airflow) and hypopneas (partial airflow reductions), recorded during sleep studies or other medical assessments. These ratings are as follows:

0% Rating: If sleep apnea is diagnosed, but the frequency of respiratory events is minimal, a 0% rating may be assigned.

30% Rating: If moderate to severe sleep apnea is documented, typically defined as between 30 and 60 respiratory events per hour, a 30% rating may be assigned.

50% Rating: A 50% rating is typically assigned when sleep apnea is classified as severe, with more than 60 respiratory events per hour.

100% Rating: In rare cases where sleep apnea results in chronic respiratory failure, requiring the use of a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or a similar device, a 100% rating may be assigned.

Impact on Benefits

The severity of the disability rating for sleep apnea directly affects the amount of compensation and other benefits a veteran may receive. A higher rating corresponds to increased monthly compensation. Additionally, veterans with service-connected sleep apnea may be eligible for secondary benefits related to their condition, such as coverage for CPAP machines and ongoing medical care.

The Importance of Evidence

Medical Records and Documentation

When seeking a disability rating for sleep apnea, veterans must provide comprehensive medical records and documentation to support their claims. This evidence should include:

A formal diagnosis of sleep apnea from a qualified healthcare provider.

Records of sleep studies show the frequency and severity of respiratory events.

Statements from healthcare professionals linking the condition to military service or explaining the nexus between service and sleep apnea.

Thorough and well-documented evidence is essential in establishing a strong claim for a disability rating.

VA Exams

In some cases, the VA may require veterans to undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) examination to assess the severity of their sleep apnea. These exams are conducted by VA medical professionals and are used to gather additional evidence for the disability claim.

Appealing VA Decisions

If a veteran receives a disability rating for sleep apnea that they believe is incorrect or inadequate, they have the right to appeal the decision. The appeal process allows veterans to present additional evidence, request a reevaluation, or challenge any discrepancies in their case.


Sleep apnea can be a debilitating condition that affects many veterans. Understanding how 

VA rates sleep apnea for those seeking benefits and proper medical care. Veterans should ensure they have a current diagnosis, establish a clear service connection, and provide comprehensive medical evidence to support their claims. Additionally, being aware of the potential for appeals can help veterans pursue the appropriate level of compensation and support for their condition. With the right knowledge and evidence, veterans can navigate the VA disability rating system effectively and receive the assistance they deserve.

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How does one combine a passion for journalism with a strong sense of justice? For Crystal, the choice was simple: legal journalism. Born and raised in a family of attorneys but wanting to approach the law from an investigative angle, Crystal decided that people would not hear her voice in the court but online, in magazines, journals, and other platforms. When she is not studying active lawsuits closely to report on them, she writes public-friendly articles detangling the complicated threads representing the American legal system.