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9/11 and Sleep Apnea—What You Need to Know


Sleep apnea is a chronic health condition that is common among 9/11 responders and survivors. Common symptoms such as headache, irritability, and fatigue can negatively impact daily life. However, if left untreated, sleep apnea may also contribute to more serious illnesses, such as heart disease and type-2 diabetes. 

The World Trade Center Health Program has certified nearly 15,000 responders and almost 1,500 survivors with the condition to date. Significantly, those who have been diagnosed with 9/11 sleep apnea and satisfy the eligibility criteria may be entitled to receive an award from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Sleep Apnea Symptoms and Treatment

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder in which breathing stops and starts during the sleep cycle. Specifically, normal breathing pauses from between ten and thirty seconds at a time. Once breathing resumes, it often does so with a gasping, choking, or snorting sound. These episodes can occur more than several times per hour.

While there are different types of sleep apnea, the most common is referred to as “obstructive sleep apnea.” Not only does this condition result in the inability to get a good night’s sleep, which affects healthy cognitive and metabolic function. Individuals with sleep apnea may also face higher risk of developing high blood pressure, liver complications, and other disorders.   

Common symptoms associated with sleep apnea include:

  • Snoring
  • Headaches
  • Abrupt awakenings
  • Restlessness during sleep
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry mouth/sore throat on waking

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed with home sleep tests that measure your heart rate, airflow, blood oxygen, and breathing patterns. A doctor might also recommend nocturnal polysomnography to detect the condition. This equipment measures breathing patterns and movement, as well as heart, lung, and brain activity during the night. Treatment for sleep apnea can include lifestyle changes, the use of devices that open blocked airways, and supplemental oxygen.

Critically, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) is thought to be the most reliable treatment method for sleep apnea. This therapy uses a machine that delivers air pressure through a mask during sleep to keep the upper airway passages open and prevent snoring from occurring. If all treatment options and therapies fail, a doctor may recommend surgical intervention, such as tissue removal, tissue shrinkage, nerve stimulation, jaw repositioning, or tracheostomy.     

VCF Compensation for 9/11 Sleep Apnea

The VCF issues awards to responders and survivors for the economic and non-economic losses suffered in connection with their 9/11-related health conditions. However, in addition to satisfying the VCF’s eligibility criteria, a 9/11 health condition must first be certified by the WTC Health Program for an individual to obtain VCF compensation.   

As of 2018, the VCF has applied stricter scrutiny to non-economic loss claims associated with obstructive sleep apnea. While $90,000 is the highest pain and suffering award that may be issued for non-cancers, only those with the most debilitating conditions can receive this amount.

The VCF may award $90,000 for sleep apnea if (1) the claimant’s health condition is severe and significantly affects their daily activities; (2) the condition requires ongoing CPAP use, which has been prescribed by a doctor; and (3) CPAP is actually used by the claimant on an ongoing basis, or there is medical evidence to show that they cannot tolerate its use. If CPAP is only prescribed for a limited amount of time, or the condition does not have a debilitating effect on the claimant’s daily life, the VCF will not award the highest amount possible.       

Contact an Experienced 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Attorney

9/11 sleep apnea can have a devastating impact on a responder or survivor’s life and livelihood. If you’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea caused by exposure to the 9/11 dust cloud, a knowledgeable VCF attorney can help you receive the maximum compensation to which you are entitled.  

The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund attorneys at The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. have represented claimants and their families in 9/11 VCF claims for more than a decade. For a free consultation, contact us today.


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