Veterans throughout the country are dealing with disabilities and illnesses related to their military service. These service-connected conditions can be mental or physical, and Veterans can qualify to receive monthly benefits as compensation for their disabilities. If you suffer from a service-connected disability, you may be eligible for monthly disability payments if you file a claim for disability compensation from the VA.
One of the most common illnesses among Veterans is insomnia. According to an article published in the Clinical Psychological Review, 27-54% of Veterans have insomnia or display insomnia-like symptoms. This makes insomnia much more common among Veterans than civilians. Many of the factors of everyday life on active duty can have a long-term negative impact on sleep. Stress, traumatic experiences, exposure to harmful substances, and service-connected injuries can contribute to the development of sleep problems for many Veterans.
Veterans are two to three times more likely to develop insomnia than the United States civilian population. The same study from the Clinical Psychological Review goes on to explain that up to two-thirds of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans display symptoms of insomnia. This makes insomnia one of the most common sleep problems in the Veteran population, alongside obstructive sleep apnea, nightmares, and others.
While many Veterans may already have a diagnosis for their insomnia, many do not realize they are entitled to VA disability for the condition. Insomnia and other sleep related-disorders can qualify a Veteran for disability benefits if they can prove that their condition was caused by service.
Insomnia can be rated anywhere on the VA disability rating scale — from 0–100% — which means Veterans could receive up to $3,221.85 from the VA for their insomnia. A 0% disability rating for insomnia is not enough to qualify a Veteran for benefits. A rating this low typically indicates that a Veteran is not significantly affected by his or her insomnia. However, more severely disabling cases of insomnia can qualify a Veteran for the highest possible disability rating, providing a Veteran with high amounts of monthly compensation.
Sleep disorders like insomnia can also be listed on a Veteran’s disability claim as secondary conditions. A secondary condition is not a disability caused by military service, but service-related conditions exacerbate it. Secondary conditions may develop as a result of a service-connected disability. For example, if a Veteran suffers from insomnia as a result of PTSD, they may be able to qualify for disability benefits both for their primary condition — PTSD— and for their secondary condition — insomnia.
What is Insomnia?
WebMD describes insomnia as a sleep disorder that causes problems with falling and staying asleep. Insomnia can be categorized based on how often a person displays symptoms:
- Acute: Short-term insomnia that lasts for only a brief stint of time.
- Chronic: Long-term insomnia that can persist for years. Chronic insomnia may come and go, sometimes improving and worsening without an explanation.
Acute insomnia can range anywhere from one night to a couple of weeks. This type of insomnia is viewed as less severe by the VA. Chronic insomnia occurs when an individual displays symptoms continually for three or more nights a week for at least three months.
Some common symptoms associated with insomnia include:
- Sleepiness: Because of lack of sleep at night, many sufferers of insomnia often feel extremely tired during the day. Insomnia can start to look in some cases like excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS) or narcolepsy, conditions that cause a person to have trouble staying awake during the daytime. Severe cases of insomnia can often make it hard for a person to stay awake while working or carrying out necessary everyday tasks.
- Fatigue: Lack of sleep can also cause feelings of overall exhaustion and weariness. Chronic fatigue is one of the primary daytime symptoms of insomnia. Like sleepiness, fatigue can have a major negative impact on a Veteran’s ability to work and perform basic tasks.
- Trouble concentrating or memory problems: Lack of sleep can negatively affect cognitive function, making it harder to focus or remember important information. When you do not get enough sleep, your brain may not function optimally, leading to subpar performance at work.
What Causes Insomnia Among Veterans?
Veterans who are dealing with insomnia can often trace the causes of their condition back to their military service. The most common causes of primary insomnia — insomnia directly linked to a Veteran’s military service — are high levels of stress, environmental factors like noise, light, temperature, and changes to your sleeping schedule. All of these factors are part of the everyday lives of many soldiers.
Knowing that the primary causes for insomnia are all common factors in many soldiers’ lives, it is easy to see why so many Veterans suffer from the condition. Soldiers regularly deal with stress related to their line of work, whether on or off the frontlines.
Soldiers are also often subjected to environmental changes when deployed, and these factors can have a negative impact on their long-term ability to sleep well. It is also common for a soldier’s sleep schedule to be inconsistent. Many soldiers get far less than the recommended hours of nightly rest while serving in the military, which can lead to chronic insomnia in the long-term.
Perhaps more common among Veterans is secondary insomnia, which is caused by:
- Mental health issues (i.e. PTSD, anxiety, depression): These conditions can be directly service-connected, and insomnia caused by PTSD is very common among Veterans.
- Medications: Some prescription medicines can occasionally cause sleep problems. A Veteran can develop secondary insomnia due to the side effects of a medication that they take to treat a primary disability.
- Pain at night: Service-connected injuries can be extremely painful. Chronic pain can make it tough for many Veterans to get enough sleep at night, which can often lead to the development of insomnia.
- Hyperthyroidism: A condition that can be caused or worsened by service-related factors, hyperthyroidism can lead to exhaustion, fatigue, and sleep problems for many Veterans.
- Other Sleep Disorders: If a Veteran suffers from obstructive sleep apnea, nightmares, or other sleep disorders, they may end up developing insomnia as well.
Veterans are often receiving disability benefits for mental health issues like anxiety and PTSD, and they could receive VA disability for insomnia based on secondary service connection. Secondary service connection is used to provide Veterans with compensation for injuries or illnesses caused by a service-connected disability. If the VA recognizes insomnia as a secondary condition, your disability rating can increase significantly. If you have insomnia and are not currently receiving disability benefits for it, make sure to request to have your condition re-evaluated by the VA.
Getting VA Disability for Insomnia
Veterans looking to receive VA disability for insomnia will need to get the disorder service connected. For primary insomnia, the Veteran must have:
- A current medical diagnosis of insomnia
- An in-service event or occurrence that caused the disability
- A nexus or medical opinion linking insomnia to the in-service event
If a Veteran can provide the VA with the three items listed, they should receive a disability rating for insomnia.
Veterans who have secondary insomnia can still receive disability benefits for their sleeping problems, and a secondary claim for insomnia is very common. For example, Veterans who were diagnosed with PTSD are likely dealing with sleep problems because of their past traumatic experiences. In fact, a Millennium Cohort Study found that 92% of active-duty personnel with PTSD reported insomnia. The VA understands that Veterans should still receive VA compensation for insomnia and can grant service connection on a secondary basis.
So, if you have a service connected disability that is causing insomnia, you need to get a medical diagnosis stating that it is “at least as likely as not” that the primary disability is causing insomnia.
Veterans Disability Lawyers
Unfortunately, insomnia is very common among Veterans, especially those dealing with mental health issues related to service. Veterans are entitled to VA compensation for insomnia if they can prove it was caused by military service. If you have insomnia and were denied disability benefits by the VA, the Veterans disability lawyers at Berry Law can help you appeal.
Berry Law has helped thousands of Veterans successfully appeal unfavorable VA decisions, and they are committed to assisting Veterans in their fight for disability benefits. Berry Law was founded by a Vietnam Veteran and features attorneys from the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Fight with a team of Veterans on your side. Contact Berry Law today for a free case evaluation.