Posted on Jun 18, 2010
Over the last two years, the number of United States veterans receiving disability benefits for sleep apnea increased by 61 percent, from 39,145 cases in 2008 to 63,118 cases in 2010. Altogether, one out of five war veterans suffer from sleep apnea, while only five out of 100 people in the general population have been diagnosed with the condition.

Sleep apnea is a breathing condition that makes it difficult for sufferers to receive enough oxygen while sleeping. The condition can be caused by a number of factors, including obesity, but many veterans suffer from the disease because of the dust, toxins, grit, sand and fumes they inhaled whole in the armed forces. Sleep apnea can cause daytime drowsiness, sleep deprivation, snoring, sore throats, and headaches.

Experts, such as Max Hirshkowitz, director of the Sleep Disorder Center at the Houston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, believe that the number of veterans applying for sleep apnea disability benefits will only continue to rise in the coming months and years. Because many Baby Boomers who served in Vietnam are now getting older, and because a large number of Iraq War veterans are now returning home and realizing their health problems, many more veterans are expected to apply for sleep apnea disability benefits. All in all, the VA spends an estimated $500 million caring for veterans who suffer from this debilitating breathing condition.

While all agree that serving in the armed forces in dusty and toxic outdoor conditions can greatly harm one’s respiratory system, some believe that the sleep apnea being reported is also related to later-life weight gain.

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James R. Keller
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