Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD

Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD

Many Veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD are also facing symptoms of sleep apnea. This has led to Veterans questioning the link between PTSD and sleep apnea. More specifically, what is the risk factor for a Veteran with PTSD to display symptoms associated with sleep apnea. Can your PTSD lead to sleep apnea? The short answer: yes. PTSD can lead to sleep apnea. From a VA disability standpoint, this means a Veteran could develop sleep apnea secondary to PTSD and would therefore be entitled to compensation.

In this article, we will discuss both post-traumatic stress disorder and sleep apnea and how these conditions can be linked to military service and each other. In addition, we will walk you through the steps you can take to appeal a Department of Veterans Affairs decision if you have been denied VA disability benefits for either of these conditions.

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that affects thousands of Veterans each year. Any form of traumatic experience can cause the condition. Some of the most common causes for PTSD in Veterans are:

  • Military Sexual Trauma (MST): Many Veterans endured sexual assault or abuse while in service in the military. However, this type of trauma is tragically under-reported and under-treated. Fortunately, the VA has taken steps in the last few decades to ensure that Veterans suffering from MST have better access to important resources, including VA disability compensation. 
  • Combat Experiences: Being on the frontlines while serving in the military can traumatize many soldiers. Many men and women serving on the frontlines have to witness numerous deaths, often including the deaths of their friends and fellow soldiers. Some soldiers also take the lives of others while on active duty, which can be equally traumatizing. Combat experiences are some of the most common causes of PTSD in Veterans. 
  • Injuries: Getting severely injured, whether in combat, in an accident, or under other circumstances, can be highly traumatic for a soldier. Even decades after sustaining an injury, a Veteran may still have flashbacks, nightmares, and other symptoms related to their traumatic experience.

Other factors can also lead to the development of PTSD in soldiers, but these are some of the most common. 

The Symptoms Of PTSD

There are four primary categories of PTSD symptoms: reliving, avoidance, negative thoughts and feelings, and arousal. 


Many people living with PTSD struggle with flashbacks, nightmares, and even insomnia due to the condition. These symptoms are often brought on by anything that serves as a reminder of a Veteran’s traumatic experience. As a result of PTSD symptoms, many Veterans develop sleep problems, including sleep apnea.


Veterans with PTSD may find themselves staying away from people, places, and items that remind them of their trauma. This avoidance can lead to isolation, pushing a Veteran away from relationships, work, and other responsibilities. Many Veterans with PTSD may have trouble staying consistent with their careers due to the avoidance-related symptoms of PTSD.

Negative Thoughts And Feelings

PTSD is sometimes treated with a toxic “blame the victim” mentality. The disability is often handled poorly by a sufferer’s friends and family, making a Veteran with PTSD feel responsible for their trauma. However, PTSD is not a weakness, nor is it something that anyone should blame themselves for. Nevertheless, many Veterans with PTSD feel intense guilt and shame related to their condition. 


Many sufferers of PTSD report a sense of being constantly “switched on,” a feeling that can lead to lingering anxiety and tension. A traumatic experience can make a Veteran with PTSD constantly feel like something is wrong, leading to hyper-arousal. The anxiety and stress that many PTSD sufferers experience can lead to the development of other health problems or mental health problems.

What is Sleep Apnea?

One of the most common sleep disorders for Veterans is obstructive sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when an individual stops breathing during sleep. This lack of breathing can last for either a few seconds or for several minutes. The symptoms associated with sleep apnea include fatigue, slow reflexes, and problems related to the heart. If you are a Veteran with PTSD and suffer from sleep apnea, you should get a direct service connection for sleep apnea secondary to PTSD as soon as possible.

What is a Secondary Service Connection?

Secondary service connection means that a Veteran suffers from secondary basis illnesses related to their primary disability. Most mental and physical conditions can lead to other disabilities that are compensable by the VA. For example, let’s say a Veteran has diabetes related to Agent Orange. The Veteran is entitled to disability compensation for diabetes. However, the Veteran may also suffer from neuropathy, which is pain and nerve damage typically caused by diabetes. Because the diabetes is causing neuropathy, the Veteran should be entitled to compensation for that as well.

Now, if a Veteran has been diagnosed with PTSD and is also displaying sleep apnea symptoms, they could receive disability compensation for both PTSD and sleep apnea. To receive compensation, the Veteran would need to prove service connection for sleep apnea secondary to PTSD.

To prove that there is a connection between sleep apnea and PTSD, a disabled Veteran will need to medically verify that their PTSD symptoms led to the development or exacerbation of sleep apnea and sleep deprivation. A Veteran may have had a sleep apnea diagnosis before being diagnosed with PTSD. However, sleep apnea can still be considered a secondary condition if the Veteran’s symptoms were made worse by PTSD.

Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD

An increasing number of scientific studies show that sleep apnea and PTSD are comorbid conditions. One study compared the records of 4 million Veterans who have PTSD and those not who have PTSD to find a connection between PTSD and sleep apnea. They found an incredible statistical difference. Approximately 11.85% of individuals who have PTSD also had sleep apnea. This is a relatively significant difference when you compare it to the 4.74% of individuals with sleep apnea who do not have PTSD. 

Thus, according to the study, individuals with PTSD are 2.7 times more likely to suffer from sleep apnea than those without PTSD. This means Veterans are at a higher risk of having sleep apnea secondary to PTSD. This statistic does not verify that a Veteran’s sleep apnea is secondary to PTSD, but it is still helpful. To get service connected, a Veteran will need to provide the VA with medical records and other information to verify that the two conditions are directly linked.

In addition, other studies also came to the same conclusion as the previously mentioned study. Researchers at Walter Reed Army medical center looked at sleep problems among 80 OIF/OEF Veterans returning from combat diagnosed with PTSD.  Almost all of them said they had problems sleeping, and almost two-thirds suffered from sleep apnea. This is substantial compared to the American frequency of 20% of men and 9% of women who have had sleep apnea at some time in their lives.

Getting Service Connected

If you have been denied disability benefits for sleep apnea secondary to PTSD, our team of Veteran attorneys can help. We have helped thousands of Veterans successfully appeal unfavorable VA decisions, and we are dedicated to helping Veterans get the disability compensation they deserve. Contact Berry Law today to schedule a free case evaluation and take the next step in your fight for disability benefits.

The VA appeals process can be complicated, and it is always helpful to have an experienced attorney by your side when appealing a VA decision. Your attorney can help you make a strong case to the VA that you deserve increased benefits for sleep apnea in addition to what you already receive for PTSD. 

In addition, one of our experienced attorneys can help you appeal a VA decision even if your disability claim has been approved. You reserve the right to appeal any VA decision with the help of an attorney, including an approved VA claim with a VA disability rating that you view as too low. If you are receiving disability compensation for PTSD and sleep apnea but feel that the disability rating you received from the VA is lower than what you deserve, we can help you appeal your sleep apnea claim with another medical opinion.

To get started with the appeals process, contact us today for a free consultation.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law Firm are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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