Sleep apnea claims often denied

Sleep apnea is one of the most common conditions veterans want to file a VA disability claim for. Many of them have been diagnosed with the condition many years after leaving active duty service, so therefore, their claims are usually denied.

Sleep apnea is not a sleep disorder, but a respiratory condition, and it can be diagnosed only with a sleep study. Service connection will be granted on a direct basis only if the disorder was diagnosed on active duty. Though there are some conditions that can be granted service connection if they are diagnosed to a compensable degree within one year of leaving active duty, sleep apnea is not one of them.

In some cases sleep apnea can be claimed as a secondary or residual disability to an already-held service connected disability. For example, a veteran service-connected with another obstructive respiratory condition such as chronic rhinitis or sinusitis, deviated septum or asthma, among others, may be able to get service-connection for sleep apnea on a secondary basis if they can provide medical evidence and a medical opinion from their doctor that the sleep apnea is “more likely than not” a residual, secondary disability of a service-connected disability.

If a veteran is not already service-connected (or entitled to service connection if never claimed) for such a condition to claim the sleep apnea as a secondary condition, or was not diagnosed with a sleep study on active duty, his claim is not well-grounded and will be denied, as no medical evidence exists to link the sleep apnea to active duty service.

Many veterans say that sleep apnea wasn’t as well understood or diagnosed when they were on active duty, especially when it came to ordering sleep studies. They say they can provide lay statements from spouses or roommates about how they had severe snoring while on active duty. Unfortunately, such statements are not medical evidence, and many people who snore do not have sleep apnea.

Some veterans misunderstand the VA disability compensation system and assume they can get compensation for any disability they get diagnosed with, even if years after service, which is not true. A service-connected disability is just that: a condition that can be proven with medical evidence to have begun in service, or one that is secondary to a service-connected condition; one that is a “presumptive” condition, such as some that are diagnosed within one year of leaving active duty, one related to exposure to herbicides in Vietnam or related to service in the Gulf War, among a few select others.

It is always best to understand the claims process and evidence needed to be successful before filing a specific claim.  If you have any questions or need guidance, I recommend you seek the counsel of an accredited veteran’s service officer. While some claims are easy and straightforward, others are more complex. Remember, filing claims that are not well-grounded contributes the VA’s backlog, as they must process all claims regardless of the merits. The same goes for filing unsubstantiated appeals, which take several years because of the large backlog.

Remember, the Colusa County Veteran Services office is here to serve veterans and their dependents. I can complete the DMV Veteran Status Verification Form for the new California Veteran Designation on your driver’s license. There are many state and federal benefits available to veterans and their dependents that they have earned. To find out if you are eligible for any of these benefits, visit or call our office.  I can and will assist you in completing all required forms and application.  You can get information on the Web from the Colusa County Veterans Service Office webpage at http://www.countyofcolusa.org/index.aspx?nid=180

— Don Parsons retired Army is the Asst. Veterans Service Officer for Colusa County. Send your questions to the Veterans Service Office, 251 E. Webster St. Colusa, Ca 95932, email   don.parsons@colusadhhs.org    or call (530)458-0388.   

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Don Parsons is the Assistant Veterans Service Officer for Colusa County. You can reach him at (530)458-0388 or don.parsons@colusadhhs.org. The Colusa County Veteran Services Office is located at 251 E. Webster St. in Colusa and is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:30pm and 1:30 pm to 4:30 p.m.■