Sleep Apnea

Everything Veterans Need to Know About Sleep Apnea

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by repeated disruptions or interruptions of a person’s breathing while they are asleep. These interruptions are typically caused by repeated, temporary collapses in the upper airway, usually caused by air pressure pulling the soft tissues of the upper airway downward. These frequent interruptions can cause a person to wake up repeatedly throughout the night, disrupt the normal sleep cycle, and cause shallow breathing. All of these factors together can result in poor sleep quality, chronic exhaustion, and may lead to other serious health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension.

If you think that you or someone you know may have sleep apnea, you should seek a diagnosis and appropriate treatment from an appropriate healthcare professional. Typically, this is a sleep specialist or pulmonologist.

What are the Types of Sleep Apnea?

There are three common types of sleep apnea.

  1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA):
    This is the most common type of sleep apnea and it occurs when the muscles and tissues in the back of the throat relax during sleep. If the tissues relax too much or if there is too much tissue, the air pressure change during inhalation can pull these tissues down temporarily causing a partial blockage or full obstruction of the airway. 
  2. Central Sleep Apnea (CSA):
    CSA is a less common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the brain fails to send the appropriate signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing while a person is asleep. Unlike OSA, there may be no physical obstructions in the airway, but the brain’s failure to communicate with the breathing muscles still leads to a pattern of disrupted breathing throughout the sleep cycle.
  3. Complex or Mixed Sleep Apnea:
    Some individuals can have a combination of obstructive sleep apnea and central sleep apnea. This condition is referred to as complex or mixed sleep apnea.
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Signs, Symptoms, and Treatments of Sleep Apnea

What are the Symptoms of Sleep Apnea?

Common symptoms of sleep apnea include choking or gasping for air while sleeping, loud snoring, difficulty concentrating, headaches upon waking in the morning, irritability, chronic daytime tiredness or fatigue, and exhaustion.

Since symptoms occur during sleep, many people with sleep apnea may not even be aware of their snoring or gasping symptoms. Instead, it is often a spouse or family member who notices these nightly signs.

How is Sleep Apnea Diagnosed?

Sleep apnea is most commonly diagnosed with overnight monitoring through a sleep laboratory. There are some at-home tests and questionnaires available that may help indicate if you are experiencing sleep apnea. 

VETERANS — It is important to note that if you are attempting to make a VA disability claim for sleep apnea, you must receive a formal sleep apnea diagnosis from a doctor. This usually means you will need to opt in for overnight monitoring through a lab. Without a conclusive sleep apnea diagnosis from a medical provider, your disability claim will likely be dismissed on the grounds of inconclusive evidence.

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Sleep Apnea and Veterans Disability Claims

Can Veterans get Disability for Sleep Apnea?

The short answer: 

Yes. Veterans can successfully submit disability claims for sleep apnea. 

The long answer:

Sleep apnea claims through the VA can be complex. If you are a veteran seeking a disability rating for sleep apnea, Veterans Disability Aid highly recommends working with a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) or a representative from a Veterans Service Organization. They can assist you with the initial claim filing process and help you gather the necessary evidence and documentation. If you have already filed a sleep apnea disability claim and been denied, contact the team at Veterans Disability Aid. We will help you file an appeal.

What is the VA sleep apnea rating?

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assigns disability ratings to veterans based on the severity of their service-related conditions, injuries, or disabilities. This disability rating determines the level of compensation and benefits that a veteran is eligible to receive. The ratings can range from 0% to 100%. Higher ratings indicate a more severe disability. 

For example, a 0% rating means the condition is service-connected but does not currently cause any impairment, while a 100% rating indicates the condition is service-connected and is also a total disability.

For sleep apnea, the VA evaluates a disability rating based on the severity of the condition as well as its impact on the veteran’s daily life. The specific disability rating for sleep apnea can vary greatly based on individual circumstances, such as the frequency and severity of sleep disruption episodes, the need for medical devices such as CPAP machines, and the need for medications or corrective surgeries. 

VETERANS - To determine your specific disability rating for sleep apnea, it's important to undergo a thorough medical evaluation by a VA healthcare provider. They will assess the severity of your sleep apnea and its impact on your health and daily functioning, which will then be used to assign an appropriate disability rating.

What causes sleep apnea in veterans?

Sleep apnea can affect people from all different walks of life. This includes veterans. There are many factors, some service-related, that can contribute to the development of sleep apnea in veterans. While many of these factors can increase the risk of sleep apnea, it’s important to note that not all veterans will develop the condition. 

Sleep apnea is a treatable condition, and veterans who are experiencing symptoms should seek appropriate medical evaluation and treatment.

Military Service-Related Sleep Apnea Factors

Sometimes, veterans may develop sleep apnea as a result of exposures or conditions experienced during their military service. Exposure to environmental hazards such as dust, chemical agents, or pollutants can contribute to respiratory issues.

Service-Related Injuries and Disabilities

Some service-related injuries or disabilities can make veterans more susceptible to sleep apnea. Muscular injuries or skeletal injuries that impede airway function can contribute to the development of sleep apnea. Even amputations that affect a veteran’s sleeping position can be considered causes of the development of sleep apnea. Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can also be contributing factors to sleep apnea.


Obesity is a very significant risk factor for the most common form of sleep apnea, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA). Veterans, just like anyone else, may develop OSA if they are overweight or obese. This is because weight gain can cause accumulation of fat deposits around the neck and throat which may then contribute to airway obstructions.


Sleep apnea can develop as people age, this is true for civilians and veterans alike. Veterans who served in the military may experience age-related sleep apnea as they get older.


Some genetic factors contribute to the development of sleep apnea. Individuals with a family history of sleep apnea may be more predisposed to developing the condition. 

Lifestyle Factors

Certain lifestyle factors such as smoking and regular or excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of sleep apnea. Veterans who engage in these behaviors can increase the risk of developing sleep apnea.

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Is Sleep Apnea Presumptive for Gulf War Veterans?

When it comes to VA sleep apnea disability claims, Gulf War Veterans are often considered a special case. Many Gulf War veterans exhibit symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome. This chronic multi-symptom illness has known respiratory disorders listed as symptoms, including sleep apnea.

If you are a Gulf War Veteran and are exhibiting symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, the VA will most likely presume there is a connection between your disability and your time serving in the military. As with all other VA disability cases, it is vital that you seek a diagnosis from a certified medical provider for your condition. This is the best way to improve the chances of receiving an appropriate disability rating from the VA for your condition. 

In almost every case, the VA will require you to submit adequate evidence and documentation to support your claim before they will approve your claim. Veterans Disability Aid recommends working with a Veterans Service Officer (VSO) or a representative from a Veterans Service Organization when filing your initial claim to improve the odds of your claim being accepted. If you have already filed a sleep apnea disability claim and been denied, contact the team at Veterans Disability Aid. We will help you file an appeal.

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You Fought For Your Country, Let Us Fight for You.

If you have had your VA disability claim for sleep apnea denied, reach out to Veterans Disability Aid for assistance in filing your appeal. Alan Watt is a VA-accredited claims agent and has extensive experience navigating the difficult and often confusing VA claims and appeals process. Visit our About Us page to learn more about the team at Veterans Disability Aid. You can also get ahold of the team directly by using the button below to visit our contact page.

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