War Veterans Suffer from Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a sleep condition wherein a person experience pauses in breathing and snores loudly to grasp for air; people with this sleep disorder also suffer from excessive sleepiness and fatigue during the day. Sleep apnea is also linked to obesity. Visit sleepdisorders.com to learn more about sleep apnea.

In 2001, 983 veterans filed for their disability compensation because of sleep apnea from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In 2012 there were already 24,791 new claimants, that is 25 times more veterans with sleep apnea and claiming their disability compensation. In total the VA has 114,103 veterans and retirees who are receiving  disability compensation due to sleep apnea; this number doubled compared to the compensation rolls of the VA just three years ago.

With around 114,103 retirees and veterans suffering from sleep apnea, the VA spends at least $ 1.2 billion yearly for them. Michael T. Webster, a family law lawyer and  former naval aviator, thinks this sudden boom of claimants to be a scam and an insult to those veterans who are suffering from “real disabilities”.

Webster wants to know the real truth about these abuses made by recent retirees and veterans. He sent a letter to Representative Jeff Miller (R-Fla), a congressman and the current chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. In his letter he wrote that every family law case he handled has a veteran family member receiving disability compensation because of sleep apnea. He also wrote that a colonel told him that military servicemen nearing their retirement are briefed that they can already claim disability compensation because of sleep apnea; when they do this, they will be given a 50% disability rating and are eligible to receive concurrent payments.

A spokeperson of Rep. Miller said that Webster’s allegations are serious and that they are going to investigate and study further about it. Based on VA’s data, 88% of veterans and retirees with sleep apnea receive 50% disability ratings. The veterans are given such disability ratings because sleep apnea  mostly occurs during active duty or may be caused by years of services in the military; these veterans are prescribed to use CPAP, thus granting veterans the 50% disability ratings.

Ironically, according to sleep doctors if CPAP works, retirees and veterans should no longer be considered as disabled. This however is considered as nuance by the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

The Department of Veterans Affairs started giving disability compensation to veterans with sleep apnea in 1996. Veterans or retirees with 50% rating have at least $810 increase in their monthly income, and more if they have dependents.

Tom Murphy, the compensation services director of the  VA said that disability claims, not only for sleep apnea, are being encouraged by the department. He also added that veterans today are just more aware of their benefits. Verna Jones, the director of American Legion’s Veterans’ Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, said that Webster’s statements are hurtful and insulting to veterans. However, Webster iterated that such disability claims are a slap to “truly disabled” veterans, like his own father who lost an arm.