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VA Disability Rating for Asthma and Sleep Apnea

VA Disability Rating for Asthma and Sleep Apnea

Millions of American Veterans experience respiratory and sleep-related disorders every year. Among the many disorders Veterans experience, asthma and sleep apnea are among the most common and disruptive. 

If you experience either or both of these conditions, you should know the VA disability rating ranges for each. This will tell you what to expect when you apply for disability benefits and help you secure maximum benefits for your medical bills and more.

What Is Asthma?

Asthma is a respiratory condition characterized by narrow, inflamed, and/or swollen airways. Depending on the type of asthma, the condition could involve the airways filling up with extra mucus. Regardless, all asthma makes it difficult for the patient to breathe.

Asthma can be consistent, or it can be triggered by certain environmental factors, like common allergens. While some people develop asthma at an early age, others develop asthma due to life events, including events that can occur during one’s time in the military.

How Does the VA Rate Asthma?

The VA rates bronchial asthma under Diagnostic Code 6602. To determine the severity of your symptoms, the VA will measure your Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV). The FEV rating tells you how much air you can exhale when forcibly breathing out.

Based on your symptoms, the VA will assign a disability rating from 10% to 100%:

  • 10% rating: Awarded to Veterans whose bronchial asthma results in an FEV rating of 71% to 80% of expected values or who have to use an inhalational anti-inflammatory medication intermittently
  • 30% rating: Awarded to Veterans whose bronchial asthma results in FEV values of between 56% and 70% of expected values or who need to use daily inhalational therapy, oral bronchial dilator therapy, or inhalational anti-inflammatory meds
  • 60% rating: Awarded to Veterans with FEV values between 40% and 55% of expected values or who need three systemic corticosteroid treatments per year to manage their asthma
  • 100% rating: Awarded to Veterans with FEV values of less than 40% compared to expected values or who have more than one asthma attack each week and experience respiratory failure. Veterans who take systemic corticosteroids or immune-suppressive medications may also receive 100% ratings from the VA

Asthma symptoms can worsen or become better over time. Therefore, you may need to contact the VA to have them reevaluate your asthma condition periodically. 

For example, if you get older and experience additional respiratory distress, your asthma symptoms could get worse, resulting in more disability benefits over time.

What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder with three different forms:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea, characterized by overly relaxed throat muscles. With this sleep apnea, your tongue or soft palate tissue pushes against your airways and makes it difficult to breathe
  • Central sleep apnea, characterized by the brain not sending the right respiratory singles to the nervous system. This prevents you from breathing while asleep
  • Complex sleep apnea, characterized by symptoms from both of the above conditions

Any type of sleep apnea makes you wake up momentarily while asleep. You open your airways to allow oxygen into your body, then fall back into slumber. It usually happens so quickly that you don’t remember waking up.

However, sleep apnea can be debilitating if left unchecked. Over time, it can cause your sleep quality to degrade and prevent you from getting the deep rest you need to function during the day.

Furthermore, sleep apnea can be caused or exacerbated by asthma. Because asthma affects the respiratory system, your sleep apnea symptoms can worsen if you experience asthma symptoms simultaneously. 

How Does the VA Rate Sleep Apnea?

The VA rates sleep apnea according to 38 CFR 4.97 under Diagnostic Code 6847. This covers all sleep apnea syndromes, including the above three types.

The VA looks at your condition and its severity to assign a rating of between 0% and 100%. Here’s how symptoms are typically categorized and rated by the VA:

  • 0% rating, awarded to Veterans whose sleep apnea is documented but largely asymptomatic
  • 30% rating, awarded to Veterans who experience hypersomnolence or daytime sleepiness
  • 50% rating, awarded to Veterans who require a CPAP machine or other breathing assistance device
  • 100% rating, awarded to Veterans who require a tracheostomy or whose sleep apnea results in chronic respiratory failure, including retention of carbon dioxide

100% sleep apnea ratings are typically rare and only awarded to Veterans who absolutely need the maximum benefits available. Sleep apnea ratings, like asthma ratings, can increase if your symptoms worsen or if it becomes clear that therapy/medication does not improve your condition.

Are Asthma and Sleep Apnea Related?

Yes. Although asthma does not cause sleep apnea or vice versa, the two conditions are more linked than previously thought.

Researchers now believe that there is a bidirectional relationship between asthma and sleep apnea, meaning both conditions worsen each other. So, if you have sleep apnea, your asthma symptoms might worsen, and vice versa.

Furthermore, asthma may cause or aggravate obstructive sleep apnea in some cases. It’s possible to develop asthma independently, then develop sleep apnea symptoms because of how asthma affects your airways and lung tissue over time.

Because of this, you may be able to acquire an increased disability rating for your asthma benefits if you have sleep apnea.

Can Sleep Apnea Increase Your Disability Rating for Asthma?

Yes. If you have asthma, that condition could cause or worsen your sleep apnea. Therefore, if the VA already awarded a service connection for your asthma, you could also receive a secondary service connection for your sleep apnea symptoms.

This requires filing an additional application for VA disability benefits with your local VA office. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you could receive an increase in your total disability rating based on the combined ratings from both conditions.

However, the ratings are not simply added together. Instead, the proportionate rating of your sleep apnea will modify the rating for your asthma. Let’s look at an example:

  • Suppose you have an asthma rating of 30%, according to the VA. You have a service connection for your asthma because the condition developed during your active military service
  • You claim that you should receive a secondary service connection for your sleep apnea symptoms, as symptoms only appeared after you first experienced asthma symptoms
  • The VA measures your symptoms and determines that your sleep apnea deserves a rating of 30%
  • Instead of adding 30 and 30 together, you instead take 30% of your current 30% asthma rating
  • 30% of 30% is 9%, so your new total disability rating is 39%

As you can see, determining your combined disability rating and ensuring you receive the maximum benefits you are entitled to can be difficult. Veterans law attorneys can help you file the proper paperwork and present compelling evidence to the VA to ensure you receive as many disability benefits as possible.

Contact Veterans Law Attorneys Today

Both asthma and sleep apnea can be debilitating, disruptive, and difficult to live with. If you have a high enough VA disability rating, you could receive needed financial assistance to pay for medical costs and more.

You don’t have to apply for disability benefits alone, nor should you. Berry Law is well equipped and ready to help you apply for disability benefits for your sleep apnea and/or asthma. We can also help you through the appeals process if your first disability claim was denied or if you wish to seek an improvement to your disability rating for additional benefits. 

Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation and consultation. 

Sources:

38 CFR § 4.97 – Schedule of ratings – respiratory system. | CFR | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

38 CFR § 4.97 – Schedule of ratings – respiratory system. | CFR | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute

Asthma and Obstructive Sleep Apnea Overlap: What Has the Evidence Taught Us? | American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine

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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