Sleep apnea can certainly be considered a disabling condition, depending upon the type and severity of sleep apnea you have. Sleep apnea in general is a sleep disorder where breathing repeatedly starts and stops at night. There are three types of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea which is the most common type, central sleep apnea and complex sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the muscles in your throat temporarily relax narrowing or blocking your airway, effectively cutting off your breathing for periods of time. Central sleep apnea occurs when your brain fails to send proper signals to the muscles that control your breathing. And complex sleep apnea is a combination of both obstructive and central sleep apnea.
Whichever type of sleep apnea you suffer from, your symptoms are likely similar. It is very difficult to diagnose sleep apnea, mainly because it is something that occurs while you sleep. Be on the lookout for common symptoms and ask your pulmonologist if your symptoms could be related to sleep apnea. The most common symptoms related to sleep apnea include excessive daytime sleepiness; snoring; episodes of stopped breathing; abrupt awakenings accompanied by gasping or choking; dry mouth; morning headaches; and difficulty concentrating during the day. Naturally the more severe your symptoms the more disabling they can be. Certainly, someone whom is not getting a restful night’s sleep would experience difficulty presenting to a job the next day. The most important thing to do if you suffer from sleep apnea is to get medical treatment. If left untreated, sleep apnea could cause increased health risks related to high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure or even heart attacks. Having sleep apnea alone can certainly be disabling. When coupled with other serious medical conditions it can significantly exacerbate the situation.
If you find yourself struggling to work because of the symptoms related to sleep apnea, filing for social security disability is more than likely the right step for you. The social security disability program is a mandatory federal program set in place to assist injured workers in the event they are unable to work. Anyone who works and pays taxes on their income is required to pay taxes into this disability program. Disability insurance coverage is not automatic. To have this coverage you need to have paid taxes on your working income for the past five out of ten years. Assuming that is the case then you will be able to apply for disability benefits.
One of the biggest concerns with the disability program is the qualification process. Just because you have paid taxes for this coverage does not mean you will automatically receive the monetary benefit. You must first show you meet social security’s definition of disability. In general, social security defines being disabled as the inability to perform substantial gainful due to a medical condition that is expected to result in death or last a minimum of twelve months. When social security reviews your claim for benefits they will use a five-step process.
The first step in your disability evaluation is showing you are not engaging in substantial gainful activity. If you are not working then this is not a problem. If you are, your monthly earnings must be less than substantial gainful activity for you to move on to the next step. Substantial gainful activity is a set monthly earning amount that if you earn more than it then you are found to engage in substantial gainful activity. For the year 2021 substantial gainful activity is $1,310 per month in gross. Assuming you are either earning less than $1,310 per month or not working at all due to your medical conditions you will then proceed to step 2 in the evaluation process.
At step 2 social security will evaluate the severity of your medical conditions. As long as your conditions pose more than a minimal impact upon your ability to work you will pass the requirements of step 2. The severity threshold is set very low with the benefit of the doubt going to the claimant or individual applying for the benefits.
If your conditions are found to be severe, the next step would be whether your condition meets or equals a listing. The social security administration no longer recognizes sleep apnea as one of their listed conditions. Therefore, you will basically bypass this step unless you have other conditions that might be considered for a listed condition.
Before proceeding to step 4, social security will determine your residual functional capacity. To determine your residual functional capacity or RFC, social security will scour your medical records for notations of symptoms and examinations by your medical providers. This may include examinations in range of motion, sensory exams, lifting, etc. In terms of sleep apnea, social security would look for notations in your record of fatigue, daytime sleepiness, headaches, etc. Once social security has a list of your symptoms and limitations, they will formulate your residual functional capacity. That is the most you can functionally do in spite of your limitations.
Once your RFC has been determined, social security will then move on to step 4 of the evaluation. As step 4 it will be determined whether your RFC precludes you from performing your past relevant work. If you are unable to perform your past relevant work then at Step 5, they will consider whether there is any other work you can perform in the national economy, in spite of your functional limitations. Now for example, if all of the work you have performed in the past fifteen years was as a truck driver and you are suffering from severe sleep apnea, more than likely you will be found unable to perform that job. However, just because you cannot perform your past work as a truck driver doesn’t mean you are unable to perform other types of work such as a document preparer, laundry sorter, receptionist, etc.
Suffering from sleep apnea can cause some very serious symptoms for you. Certainly, if your symptoms are preventing you from working you should consider applying for the social security disability program. Call us today at (561) 625-8400 the LaBovick Law Group for a free consultation regarding your sleep apnea. We look forward to winning you disability benefits!