VA sees sharp rise in apnea cases

WASHINGTON — The number of veterans receiving disability benefits for a sleeping disorder has increased 61 percent in the past two years and now costs taxpayers more than $500 million per year, according to VA data released to USA TODAY.
More than 63,000 veterans receive benefits for sleep apnea, a disorder that causes a sleeping person to gasp for breath and awaken frequently. It is linked to problems ranging from daytime drowsiness to heart disease. The top risk factor for contracting the disorder appears to be obesity, though a sleep expert at VA and a veteran's advocacy organization cite troops' exposure to dust and smoke in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq as contributing factors.
More claims are likely to be made in the future as baby boomers age and get heavier, says Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Veterans are four times more likely than other Americans to suffer from sleep apnea, Hirshkowitz said. About 5 percent of Americans have the disorder, he said, compared with 20 percent of veterans.
Veterans benefits for sleep apnea are more generous than those for workers in the private sector, records show. For example, Elaine Fischer – a spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, which handles workers' compensation in that state – said the department is not aware of any occupational exposure that would cause sleep apnea. "We're unaware of it being directly caused by something work-related," she said.
In 2007, Congress asked VA to pay closer attention to sleep apnea among veterans. Greater awareness of the disorder has prompted more veterans to seek treatment, Hirshkowitz said. The result has been a sharp increase in claims and disability payments to veterans, according to data provided to USA TODAY by VA:
•The number of veterans claiming sleep apnea as a disability has jumped to 63,118 in 2010 from 39,145 in 2008, a 61 percent increase.
•Payments to apnea patients with a disability rating of 50 — by far the largest group receiving benefits — rose to a minimum of $534 million in 2010 from $306 million in 2008. The minimum payment for a disability with a rating of 50 is $9,240 a year, but increases if a veteran is married and has children.
The Social Security Administration recognizes sleep apnea as a disability. It pays benefits to those who can't work because of a disability that is likely to last at least one year or that will kill them. VA says veterans, however, can receive benefits and hold jobs.
Some veterans may be predisposed to sleep apnea, Hirshkowitz said, because many are built like football players. They're big men, and as they age many "become sedentary" and gain "an enormous amount of weight," he said. "When you get to middle age or late middle age your level of exercise does not maintain, particularly when you have knee problems and hip problems."
Daniel Chapman, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, agreed: "I really can't think of a reason other than what's happening in the general population, which is that we're growing increasingly obese."
Chapman and Hirshkowitz said some sleep apnea cases may be caused by exposure to toxins from smoke or fires.
Along with increased screening, the rise in sleep apnea cases may also be due to exposure to dust, sand and grit in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Thom Wilborn, a spokesman for the Disabled American Veterans organization.
"Give a guy a rifle and put him in a desert, and he's going to suffer some respiratory issues," Wilborn said.
Losing weight can help some people with sleep apnea, Hirshkowitz said, though he notes that some thin men and some women also have the disorder.
Veterans with a disability rating of 50 require breathing assistance with the airway pressure device, VA said. The breathing machines work well, Hirshkowitz said, and can prevent veterans from developing more serious heart and lung problems.

45 Comments

  1. I have sleep apnea and 4 years ago I submitted a claim form to VA. I also have PTSD and disabled 100%. VA responded by saying that I don't qualify because it wasn't service connected! Can I appeal and who do I go to for help? 847 323-9318
  2. I GOT GULF WAR ILLNESS, AND AFTER CONTACTED VETERANS LAW BLOG. i GOT PTSD AND SLEEP APNEA SLEEEP WITH YOUR CPAP MACHINE. FROM 1993 UNTIL 2008 IT TOOK ME TOO PTSD WITH A 70% DISABILITY RATINGS. bUT WHAT it came too me while waiting for a decision for ptas in 2006 I was diagnoised with severe sleep apnea it was diagboised by my doctors primary and psyche doctor anf get ths I established it as fact, because you need a referral from your primary too get into the clinic, I have a straight diagnoisis that is made fact. the va doesn't want too compensate for sleep apnea, diagnoises from my doctor and sleep study and va examiner said in 2007 I had, the va used a one medical opinion too contradict my claim. And they want my doctor to direct diagnois saying that sleep apnea is directly linked. You can deny a claim then publish articles about slee; apnea os a secondary service connection...but the direct diagnois was made I should not have too get more details from a doctor
  3. I have sleep apnea and was also tested before my separation in 2010 @ the Air Force Academy Hospital. I have called there on a couple occasions to try and get my results and I've never received any information or a phone call back. I now have "full blown" sleep apnea and its ruining my days..I'd like to apply for benefits but im afraid of being denied or look like im trying to get money..I just cant afford to do this myself and thought maybe I could use the help I feel like i've earned? loganl@genproin . com if theres anyone who can help id appreciate it..
  4. Hi William, I was diagnose with Severe Sleep Apnea about 2 years ago. I served my country from 09/1982 - 03/1997. Deployed to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and was also deployed to Kuwait for 3 months while stationed in Ft. Carson in 1995. I submitted a claim about 2 months ago for my OSA through eBenefits online and attached my DD214, my Awards, and the results of my Sleep Study. I also submitted a claim for PTSD since I saw death and destruction in the Highway of Death in kuwait while delivering maps to the ground troops in the area. I never complained about this or ever talked about it. Did I do the right thing and if not can you provide me with some guidance. You can contact me at Cel# 321-662-7138. I will greatly appreciate you help. Thanks, Angel
  5. I've heard a lot of people express disgust that sleep apnea is the new "scam". I am a military wife and mom x 2, as well as a sleep medicine practitioner. Most of the young service members I see are not obese, many do not even snore. There are several kinds of sleep disordered breathing that fall under "sleep apnea" including hypoventilation (shallow ineffective breaths) and Central Sleep Apnea (absence of respiratory effort). Both of these are silent, atypical types. You often don't diagnose them in service, but after they retire and are found to have accelerated coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, chronic kidney dysfunction, etc. Its a silent killer. If you have high blood pressure at a young age with no good reason, get a sleep study. Many think "high blood pressure or heart disease" run in their families and VA dismisses their claim because it was most likely "family history" that was the major factor. Bologna! Many times its the underlying sleep apnea that caused family members to exhibit these other disorders.
  6. I'm NOT obese and not even overweight, but I finally underwent a sleep study 2 years before retiring from active duty. It was suggested by my fiancé who noticed I would snore loudly and stop breathing at night several times. I thought that waking up with splitting headaches every morning was related to something else, but it proved to be resulting from that lack of stuffient oxygen. The sleep study resulted in diagnosis if severe chronic obstructive sleep apnea. I have used the CPAP ever since and no further morning headaches, unless for any reason I accidentally fall asleep without the CPAP. My point is that sleep apnea is NOT a condition that's only among obese or overweight service members. It can be associated or brought about by other conditions.
  7. This also happened to me, in '98 less than 30 years old I was diagnosed with severe hypertension, everything in my medical records show that my BP was fine up until two separate things happened, one being started on the Anthrax vaccine and the same year deployed to SWA, my 5th inoculation of the Anthrax vaccine gave me a reaction which I was told might have been caused by a dirty needle, the 6th did the same and then I was given a red tag for Anthrax!! But with still being young, they had me go through renal artery scans and such trying to find out what was causing my high BP and going through so many different meds to try and control it because I PCS'd on average every year and a half and getting new Doctors. But as I was retiring in '09 during my final physical the physician told me I should seek a sleep study because Sleep Apnea causes hypertension and so after I retired and got to my final place I had one done and was diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea and issued a CPAP.
  8. I too have sleep Apnea and was put on Nightime Oxygen.I was diagnosed about 5yrs. ago. They give me an ocasional test about once a yr. or two.
  9. You should contact me so that I can help you file a claim for sleep apnea. I am a Veterans Service Officer.
  10. Hello sir, I am a disabled veteran with currently a 50% rating. My service connected disability is from a severe left knee injury (30%)along with secondary injury due to the knee injury (Chronic Achilles Tendon pain(10%)and Right Quad Tendon rupture(10%). I have been currently diagnosed with sleep apnea. I attribute this to severe weight gain due to being unable to exercise because of my chronic knee pain. I served in the US Navy from 1980 -1987 and was honorably discharged from the Navy with my knee injury at that time. Would you please be able to help my out with a claim for Sleep Apnea? I am also an active American Legion member. Thank You John Marchi 330-268-8979
  11. I am a two tour Viet-Nam vet serving as a field medic. I submitted a claim 1-2016 for sleep apnea, but have yet to get a ruling. I have had sleep problems since getting out of the service, but never realized that I have had OSA for a long time. If this claim is denied, should I appeal? Thanks you.
  12. I was granted 10% for Hypertension when I retired from the service in 1996. I also was granted 10% for Lower back pain. I submitted for an increase do to these two thing causing me more problem and VA granted me 50% without checking my civilian medical records they only check my service medical record and the result from the QTC exam they had me do. I was dianois with sleep apeana in 2010 I put in a claim for it and was denied by VA saying it was not service connected. I had high blood pressure 16 years while was in the military I feel that by not been dianois for sleep apeana back then is what cause my hypertension. Any help will be appreciated. Timothy James Jonesboro, Ga 30238 404-931-1316
  13. Do you everyone. My claims has been up there for awhile. Sleep apnea, chronic kidney,hypertension,ED insomnia.
  14. William, Is the VA reducing future claims on Sleep apnea (CPAP)? I'm hearing a lot of rumors. Would love to get truth on what and when it's going to happen. Thank you. Ed Edward.e.johnson.mil@mail.mil
  15. I was discharged from the Marine Corps in 2000 after 20 years of honorable service. I knew nothing about sleep apnea prior too and several year after I retired. I put in a disability claim for sleep apnea however I was denied. I had a sleep study done a year ago, submitted a lay statement from my wife, results of my study, and my lay statement as well. I would like help submitting an appeal. I have all of the symptoms every vet is complaining about with this disease. I spent 15 years of my 20 years of active service on recruiting duty which his a high stress occupation. Please help if you can.
  16. I have been on a CPAP for quite some time. Would love to get some help filing a claim. I filed a SA claim as secondary to DMII and was denied.
  17. I have sleep apnea.I would go to bed and wake up in middle of night not breathing. I made an appointment at the sleep center. I quit breating up to 60 times per hour. The doctor put me on a cpape machine. I dread trying to sleep when the power goes off.
  18. I was told I had sleep apnea in 2007 and issue a CPAP be the VA, but I was never given any disability for it. When I recently asked why, a nurse at he VA clinic said it is not their job to assess disability. So, I guess I just keep getting screwed by the VA and not sleep good either.
  19. The problem here is not the VA. You have to put in a Disablity Claim in order to get it. The VA healthcare and VA Compensation Branches don't speak to each other unless an appointment is needed for the most part. Your claim should go through with no problem especially if VA issued you the CPAP. Just put the claim in and show where they issued you the CPAP and a copy of the sleep study and you should be good to go.
  20. I was told by a VA rep that my sleep apnea would not be approved if I was not treated for this prior to my retirement.I have apnea for almost 30 years.
  21. It is not too late for your to file a claim. You just need to know the proper procedure and VA regs. Contact me I can assist you. I am a Veterans Service Officer.
  22. Mr. McDonnell, How may I contact you regarding my sleep apnea claim. Sincerely, M. Barros (retired US ARMY 2000)
  23. Perhaps you can assist me with my claims. I currently have a fully developed claim that was submitted in Oct of 2014 for ENT issues and tinnitus on e-benefits. I had a consult done with the VA audiology and they confirmed my hearing loss of 26 db average for thresholds 1000-4000. I was also prescribed a tinnitus masker. I was a navy flight officer and was also onboard ships for 5 years and have documented the noise environment. I recently completed a sleep study at the VA and have been diagnosed with Sleep Apnea for which I will submit a claim. I am a desert storm vet and a vet of Restore Hope Somalia Africa. I spent 18 months in the middle east and was exposed to airborne dust and sand as well as burn pit emissions. I would appreciate your thoughts. Regards Peter w. Lipka My hotmail address starts with pwlipka 202-241-2565
  24. I think I have sleep Apnea, I sleep on my stomach and wake up on my back several times a night I'm over weight and 54 years old and I'm told I snore. I retired in Oct of 2000. I didn't claim this when I retired because I didn't know anything about sleep apnea. Is there anything I can do about it now?
  25. I think I have sleep Apnea, I sleep on my stomach and wake up on my back several times a night I'm over weight and 54 years old and I'm told I snore. I retired in Oct of 2000. I didn't claim this when I retired because I didn't know anything about sleep apnea. Is there anything I can do about it now?
  26. Mr. McDonnell, I constantly abruptly wake up while sleeping. I retired from the USN in 6/04 but was never treated for any SA. Can I do anything? Also, I was rated at 20% for heartbunr/reflux and my knees; both which have gotten worse. Can either of these conditions be "re-rated"? Thank you. William_conrad at cox dot net
  27. I am a retired reserve--22 years with 11 months in Pakistan from 9/01 to 8/02. I suffer from sleep apnea and have heard the same stories about the unrealistic VA wait times. I would love to chat with you about this. I am also a Legion member.
  28. I was diagnosed about 6 or 7 + - years ago for sleep apnea. I'm a Vietnam Vet and also have severe PTSD which I heard can also be a factor for sleep apnea. Any truth to that? I'm 100 % but wondered if I could get supplemental income for this .Hardly get any good sleep.
  29. I have had sleep apnea and have had to live with a CPAP machine for years. I am a 15 year veteran. Could you please help me apply for disability?
  30. We have a National Gov't contract to supply Sleep Apnea pillows to the Vet's that qualify. Please visit our web page and print info to take with you to see VA doctor; search veterans pillow
  31. Request a sleep study from your VA doc asap.Then contact the DAV and submit your paperwork for a claim.
  32. When I left Active Duty in 1997, I entered the fact that I had sleep apnea on my REFRAD physical exam. However, the Army never checked it out. Once I was in civilian life, I saw a doctor in private practice who ordered a sleep study. And, based on the results of the study he prescribed CPAP treatment. I eventually applied to the VA for compensation. Even though VA clinicians had told me that I had several conditions that were compensable, I was unaware that the VA process was adversarial. Who ever evaluated my application recommended a disability determination of 10%. Since I didn't realize that this was just the token amount they try to shut you up with, I never appealed the determination. I thought that they must have evaluated my condition and assigned the appropriate rating under their system. I didn't learn the truth until many years later. I have relied on a CPAP machine for years just to stay alive. But, I thought I no longer had any recourse since the brief appeal deadline set by the VA passed long ago. How are all these people receiving 50% determinations now?
  33. You obviously did not receive the proper guidance when you were leaving active duty. It is not too late to file a claim for sleep apnea. Contact me. I can assist you. I am a Veterans Service Officer.
  34. Hi William, I was diagnose with Severe Sleep Apnea about 2 years ago. I served my country from 09/1982 - 03/1997. Deployed to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and was also deployed to Kuwait for 3 months while stationed in Ft. Carson in 1995. I submitted a claim about 2 months ago for my OSA through eBenefits online and attached my DD214, my Awards, and the results of my Sleep Study. I also submitted a claim for PTSD since I saw death and destruction in the Highway of Death in kuwait while delivering maps to the ground troops in the area. I never complained about this or ever talked about it. Did I do the right thing and if not can you provide me with some guidance. You can contact me at Cel# 321-662-7138. I will greatly appreciate you help. Thanks, Angel
  35. Hello, I have sleep apnea. And I need to speak to you about filing a claim
  36. Here's why the increase in the number of SA cases are being presented in the last couple of years ... the VA has let be know that this condition (SA)is almost an automatic 50% disability rating compensation if it is determined service connected, so now you have all these active duty guys who are getting within two years of retirement or separation and they start complaining to the healthcare system about sleep deprivation and such which eventually promps a sleep study to get it documented in their medical records so there's proof for the VA when the VA finally does the mbrs disability rating physical. Now, I don't blame active duty mbrs for doing such if the condition is real and they work in high stressed jobs but I would think that the VA in order to ensure its not a sham needs to put a minimum number of years of serving with the condition in order spur a disability rating of 50%. Right now most services are automatically referring members to medical boards once the condition is diagnosed but because medical boards take so long to act it could be upto 2 years before a decision to medically separate or retire a member is made which is why members are waiting until they've reached retirement eligibility or within two years of their separation date to present the complaint to the military healthcare system.
  37. I also agree with your statement almost!! When I retired in '09 had never heard of it, except in '89 I was diagnosed with very high hypertension at under 30 years old I will add. My health care issues started at the onset of two things, the starting of the Anthrax vaccine along with my first deployment to SWA!! My medical records show perfect BP before that. I got to where I was telling the doctors that I was tired of being tired, didn't matter how much sleep I was getting I was exhausted, I was waking up in the middle of the night multiple times with my shirt soaked from sweat mainly around the collar, but as I was doing my final physical for retirement in '09 the doctor told my I should seek a sleep study because sleep apnea causes hypertension, I for one didn't know about sleep apnea until my final out, but once I retired and relocated and had a sleep study done I was found to have sleep apnea and was issued a CPAP. I've had 2 sleep studies done to find out the same diagnoses. I don't know how anyone could start claiming that they have it with your comment and not be tested and found to have it!! It's horrible trying to sleep with all those wires attached to your head nose chest and legs much less they are watching you with an infrared camera to see if you are twitching in your sleep for restless leg syndrome witch the sensors will tell also, so with you all that think people are faking it with breathing patterns being taken, please explain how that is! Oh and by the way, I'm no where near obese, I still meet the height and weight standards for my age if I were still in the Army!! I came in at about 120 pounds when I was 19, I'm now 150 at 46.
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