When a veteran has numerous conditions that are not all service-connected, it is important to consider whether the conditions without “service-connection” should be service-connected secondarily. A condition is service-connected secondarily when an already service-connected condition, or its medication, causes or aggravates another condition.
If you have sleep apnea and any of the following conditions there may be a link between your service-connected condition and the other condition.
The most common condition that sleep apnea is connected to is PTSD. If you think your sleep apnea is secondary to your PTSD see our previous post “Sleep Apnea Secondary to PTSD”.
People with sleep apnea are four times more likely to have depression than people without a sleeping disorder. Sleeping well is vital for your overall mental health. Sleep apnea can cause veterans to wake up tired and irritable. Inconsistent sleep over a period of time can wear down a person and cause mental health conditions. Many veterans with sleep apnea develop depression. Studies show that regardless of weight, age, sex, or race, sleep apnea symptoms are associated with the onset of depression
Sleep apnea interrupts or stops your breathing while you sleep. This inconsistent intake of oxygen can negatively affect your blood flow, leading to a stroke. The combination of low oxygen levels and high blood pressure also increases the likelihood of future stokes. While sleep apnea can be the cause of a stroke or reoccurring strokes, it can also be an after-effect of a stroke.
Sleep apnea can both cause hypertension and aggravate your pre-existing hypertension. Sleep apnea causes your blood oxygen levels to drop, increasing your blood pressure (causing hypertension). Moreover, hypertension can both cause sleep apnea and worsen it.
One study shows that Sleep apnea increases an individual’s risk of heart failure by 140%. While studies are not certain about the mechanisms explaining this association, many think that the pressure changes cause stress on the heart because of decreased blood oxygen levels and increased inflammation. Veterans that obtain a sleep apnea rating often qualify to receive benefits for secondarily service-connect heart disease too.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
Studies show that there is a link between sleep apnea and GERD. This connection is bidirectional, meaning, while GERD can induce and worsen the effect of sleep apnea, sleep apnea can also induce and worsen the effect of GERD. For example, sleep apnea can change the amount of pressure in an individual’s airway, resulting in reflux. Moreover, when asleep, the way the body clears an individual’s esophagus of acid is impaired, thus the length of time that acid is in contact with the esophagus increases, worsening the effects of GERD. Additionally, acid from GERD can cause spasms of the vocal cords that can induce sleep apnea. (which in turn can further aggravate GERD).
Sleep apnea is a known aggravator of asthma. Asthma causes inflammation in the lungs. Sleep apnea can further increase that inflammation. Additionally, people with asthma have an increased risk of developing sleep apnea.
Sinusitis & Rhinitis
Both Sinusitis and Rhinitis are linked bidirectionally to sleep apnea. Individuals with sleep apnea are much more likely of developing chronic sinusitis or rhinitis. Both of these conditions can also aggravate sleep apnea.
If you have sleep apnea and one of the above listed conditions, your next step would be to get a doctor’s medical opinion (IMO) supporting that your service-connected condition caused or aggravated the other condition. For example, a helpful IMO would be one that explained that it is likely that your service-connected PTSD caused your sleep apnea, or that your service-connected sleep apnea aggravated your GERD.
Bosley & Bratch has been helping veterans get the rating they deserve since 1995. If you suffer from sleep apnea and have any of the above conditions, Bosley & Bratch would like to help you get the disability benefits you deserve, call or chat with us online for a free consultation.