The short answer is yes.
But it seems like the VA Regional Offices and BVA struggle with sleep apnea claims.
Perhaps until they have spent a night with someone that suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, hear the suffocating snoring, experience the fear that the person will stop breathing altogether, they will continue to not take seriously claims for sleep apnea.
In any event, I have analyzed several Board of Veteran Appeals (BVA) decisions, to come up with some sort of theme as to how the BVA grants or denies service connection for sleep apnea.
First, it is important to recognize some of the different types of sleep apnea.
Once you know what type of sleep apnea you are dealing with , this should lend some clarity as to how to service connect the condition. Here are the 2 primary ways to service connect Sleep Apnea:
The easiest way to service connect sleep apnea is to have a diagnosis of the condition in-service and a current diagnosis of the condition.
I've read decisions where the Board seemed to have difficulty with mere symptoms of sleep apnea in service, but seemed to be persuaded by some combination of medical complaints of sleep disorders in service, obstructed airways, and some related treatment in service.
Most service medical records do not contain a diagnosis of sleep apnea, but appear to contain references to the symptomatology of sleep apnea or sleep disorders. If this is the case, then continuity of symptomatology (post-service), as well as chronicity, should be enough to convince the BVA (or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims) to service-connect the sleep apnea. The symptoms of sleep apnea seem to be symptoms that a non-medical "lay" witness can observe and comment on - difficult falling asleep, restless sleep, loud snoring, etc. Ask your spouse or significant other to write a statement of the symptoms of sleep apnea they observed from the end of your military service until the date of the claim. In a sleep apnea claim, especially, it is important to have no long breaks of time where there are no symptoms or medical complaints.
Note: Since the decision in Walker v. Shinseki, 708 F.3d 1331 (2013), continuity of symptomatology as a manner of proving service connection is no longer a valid method unless the condition is listed on the list of conditions at 38 CFR 3.303 (b), which sleep apnea is now.
Sleep apnea can be the result of other disorders or medical conditions. It can also be incidental to, but not caused by, other medical conditions.
For example, peripheral neuropathy can lead to waking up throughout the night - as does sleep apnea.
Absent a medical expert opinion showing that the neuropathy caused the sleep apnea, the sleep apnea (in that case) may well just be an incidental diagnosis.
Many conditions are believed to cause or result in sleep apnea symptoms. Any nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) abnormalities that reduce the openings of the airways "can" lead to an apnea condition.
Rhinitis is a common condition that can lead to sleep apnea. PTSD and Depression can be the cause of sleep apnea. Depression and dysthmia can be the result of sleep apnea, as well, due to the lack of sleep and its impact on the mood. Heart Disease is a leading cause of Central Sleep Apnea. Strokes have been known to cause central sleep apnea as well.
There is also a mounting body of evidence that suggests a causative relationship between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and many sleep disorders, including sleep apnea.
Of course, to prove secondary service-connection, the Veteran will need to prove, or service-connect, the first condition. A medical expert report or opinion may be crucial to providing the key linkage in this type of claim.
Once you are service-connected for sleep apnea, the VA will rate your sleep apnea condition using DC 6847.
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Chris Attig, an Accredited Veterans Benefits attorney and Founder of the Attig Law Firm, PLLC is responsible for the content of the site. The principal office of Attig Law Firm, PLLC, is located in Dallas, Texas. Chris Attig is NOT Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. - Please view our website disclaimer.
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