This day members wanted to know about sleep apnea including how the condition is rated in its various forms, how service-connection is established for a disorder largely associated with obesity, and what factors are behind the recent explosion of claims, as reported here in late May.
Mike Webster, a family law attorney in Florida, complained to the House Veterans Affairs Committee of widespread abuse of VA claims for sleep apnea.
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He gave some of the same data on sleep apnea cases published here, including that VA had rated 983 veterans for sleep apnea in 2001 and almost 25,000 last year. Michael Simberkoff, chief of staff of the VA New York Harbor Health System and a professor at New York University School of Medicine. Scott asked colleagues to back his recommendation that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki commission the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academies of Science, to conduct a study of sleep apnea in the veteran population.
He added that 13 percent of roughly 427,000 veterans who served after 9/11, and draw VA disability compensation today, have service-connected sleep apnea. “Short of a scientific study by a well-recognized and competent authority, I think we’re still working with rumor and innuendo,” Scott said after the briefing, which he said was “extremely informative and…put to rest a lot of different theories and conventional wisdoms.” One issue addressed was conventional wisdom by some sleep disorder experts that sleep apnea is related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We haven’t seen any medical correlation between sleep apnea and PTSD,” Hughes said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is studying changes to disability ratings for obstructive sleep apnea, particularly the 50-percent rating being awarded when VA physicians prescribe use of a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, for sleep-deprived veterans.
“That’s definitely going to be the one they look at,” said Jonathan Hughes, a policy consultant for VA’s compensation service.
“Because essentially there’s no functional impairment related to that” 50-percent rating for obstructive sleep apnea under the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).
The good news for more than 114,000 veterans already drawing compensation for sleep apnea is their ratings would not be reduced with broad change to the rating schedule, Hughes explained. Indeed, claimants still awaiting favorable decisions might not be impacted either because VASRD changes don’t happen quickly.
The only date Hughes could quote with certainty is that an ongoing effort to modernize the entire VASRD is to be completed by January 2016.
When interviewed Tuesday at VA headquarters in Washington D.
C., Hughes had just delivered a briefing on sleep apnea at a public hearing of VA Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation.
The panel, established in 2010, counsels the VA secretary on maintaining or readjusting the VASRD.