In 2001, only 983 veterans were rated for sleep apnea. In 2015, more than 25,000 were. This monumental rise in ratings can be correlated to the current 50% disability rating for sleep apnea that is currently in place. It does not explain, though, the reasons for sleep apnea – or whether it actually is a service connected disability.
Often, the leading cause for sleep apnea is identified as weight gain. Usually seen as service members near retirement, a sleep test can identify if sleep apnea is present and, if so, how severe it is. The usual solution for diagnosed sleep apnea is a CPAP machine, which provides positive pressure and keeps the nasal passageways open, preventing sleep apnea from occurring.
With 13% of the 427,000 veterans receiving disability for sleep apnea, assuming the lowest possible amount, a veteran with no dependents, that is $836.13 per month per veteran, or $46,413,576.30 per month. If these numbers seem high to you, it is because they are astronomical. This has led to an advisory committee calling to question the current disability percentage for sleep apnea.
Ignoring the fact that there is no medically identified link to military service, and that this should in fact call to question the disability payment from the government, the bigger question is the next step. If a CPAP machine keeps the airway open and allows the veteran to sleep, then what in fact is the disability?
Mark Smith, a committee member, asked the hard question: “How is it any different from a pair of glasses? If I don’t use my glasses, my earnings are going to be a hell of a lot less because I’m blind… Once I put them on, no problem.”
This is an interesting perspective to the problem. For years it has been considered that sleep apnea will require the continuous use of an external agent or machine, but that in fact is not very far from contacts or glasses. If vision is not considered a disabling feature, how does this truly differ?
Those with sleep apnea can definitely speak for themselves. I am sure many of them deal with other aspects than just sleep apnea, and finding good sleep is a challenge. With that said though, if over the course of a lifetime, a medication, machine, or agent can be utilized and it will not adversely affect one’s professional development, what is the justification to keep rating this at 50%? For this reason, the VA is looking at reducing the amount overall.
Those individuals who have already been rated or are currently receiving their disability ratings will not be affected by future adjustments; applicants nearing retirement in the coming years will surely find that this is a more difficult argument to have with the VA. It has nothing to do with whether or not veterans deserve the best care, but it should have everything to do with the fact that disability should in fact be for those aspects that are service connected, not life-style connected, and should in fact not continuously pay out when there is a treatment available.
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