Could war be responsible for a dramatic increase in sleep disorder?

(NBC) - The sound of sleep disturbed is a common symptom of sleep apnea.

The disorder linked to excessive daytime sleepiness, heart disease, even strokes, now being diagnosed in a growing number of military veterans.

The veterans administration says about 20 percent of all vets suffer from sleep apnea and according to statistics released to The USA Today Newspaper, the number of vets receiving benefits to treat the disorder jumped 61 percent between 2008 and this year.

The number one risk factor is weight.

"Not only do they get the fat in the beer belly, they get it in the inside of the throat. And it narrows the passageway for breathing and this is a risk for snoring which is a partial obstruction at night and for stopping breathing at night," said Sleep Disorder Expert Dr. Jonathan Kass.

But experts are also concerned that exposure to dust and smoke during repeat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan are also contributing to the number of service members suffering from sleep apnea.

The most common treatment is a breathing device called ACPAP.

The VA covers the cost of the equipment and testing.

How to access those benefits is one of the most popular discussion topics on a sleep apnea support group website.

The VA is spending about 500 million dollars a year to treat veterans with the disorder.

That cost is expected to increase as more baby boomers seek care and as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans retire.