Most veterans, by the time of retirement, have faced all kinds of different risks in their line of duty. While many of the risks are known and predictable, there are many risks that are difficult to prepare for. It’s the military, after all! These risks can have all kinds of different adverse health effects.
Among those lesser-known conditions are a series of bacterial lung infections which are grouped together in the Veteran Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD). Many of these infections will have similar initial symptoms, even though the treatments and severity may differ. Most are also caused by breathing in something that contained bacteria, which then gets into your lungs and causes issues. There are many different situations in which a veteran might have been exposed to bacteria in their line of work. Lung-related injuries or toxic inhalants can also increase susceptibility to bacterial lung infections.
In this article about types of bacterial lung infections and VA disability rates:
- What is Pulmonary Actinomycosis?
- What is Nocardiosis?
- What is a Chronic Lung Abscess?
- Additional Lung Infections on the VA Rating Scale
- Are Bacterial Lung Infections Cancerous?
- How to Get VA Disability for a Bacterial Lung Infection
- FAQs about Bacterial Lung Infections and VA Disability
Below we will discuss a range of VA ratings for respiratory problems and go into the respiratory disability rating scale such as chronic bronchitis, chronic lung abscesses, actinomycosis, and Nocardia pulmonary infections, interstitial lung disease, and obstructive lung disease.
What is Pulmonary Actinomycosis?
Actinomycosis is a relatively rare bacterial infection that can occur throughout the body. It happens when the actinomyces bacteria spreads from where it exists harmlessly in the body to another part because of dead tissue. When the bacteria spread out of their usual environment, it can cause an abscess to form, and in severe cases, can even break the skin and leak pus. The bacteria may have been harmless and held back from causing trouble in their original location. When they move into a different area is when they cause the problem.
Causes of Pulmonary Actinomycosis
Pulmonary actinomycosis, or thoracic actinomycosis, happens specifically in the lungs and airways. It is usually caused by inhaling bacteria into the lungs. The condition can be exacerbated if there is any kind of injury in the area that produced dead tissues (a punctured lung could lead to this).
Symptoms of Pulmonary Actinomycosis
The symptoms will initially present in the lungs, though they can spread and affect the chest cavity and spine. The symptoms include:
- Wet or productive cough
- Extreme weight loss
- Swelling or inflammation in the chest
- Abscesses or pus-filled lumps
While the abscesses can resemble cancerous tumors, they are not cancer, which is why it is important to get a proper diagnosis. This is done by testing the surrounding tissue or pus for the presence of the bacteria.
Pulmonary Actinomycosis Treatment
Typically, the treatment for actinomycosis will involve an extended round of antibiotics, such as penicillin. You may be required to take this medication for 8-12 months, depending on the persistence of the infection.
Less common is a surgical treatment to first drain the abscesses, followed by a shorter round of antibiotics.
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Pulmonary Actinomycosis VA Disability
While you are actively fighting this infection, the VA disability rating is 100%. Because of the extreme toll it takes on the body, fatigue, weakness, fever, etc. you will be largely incapacitated. This is not typically a permanent rating, however, so when you are recovered, your disability rating will be reevaluated. You may be taken off disability entirely.
What is Nocardiosis?
Nocardiosis is another type of bacterial infection that typically affects the lungs or skin. The bacteria that causes it is found in soil or standing water and you can become infected by either breathing in the bacteria, or if you have an open wound on your skin where it can enter. Any evidence of seeing a field medic or getting fixed up before heading back to your base would help in this claim.
Symptoms of Pulmonary Nocardiosis
The symptoms of pulmonary nocardiosis often resemble pneumonia or tuberculosis, which is why the VA disability for pneumonia and pulmonary nocardiosis are closely related on the lung infection VA rating scale. The symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Nocardiosis can also cause pus-filled abscesses on the lungs, like in actinomycosis, and it can spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream, causing serious, life-threatening issues. If the infection spreads to your brain, you may also experience severe headaches, problems with your motor skills, and sensitivity to lights or noises. The disease spreads like this if it is not caught and treated promptly, so you should see your doctor right away if you have any of the above symptoms that persist.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Nocardiosis
Because the symptoms of nocardiosis are so similar to pneumonia and tuberculosis, it is necessary to test a sample of tissue or pus from an abscess to properly diagnosis this disease. Your doctor may also order imaging such as an X-ray or CT scan for pulmonary nocardiosis to get a more full picture of the lung infection.
The treatment for nocardiosis will also involve an extended period of antibiotics, anywhere from 6-weeks to 12-months, and may involve surgery to drain the abscesses depending on the severity. This bacterial lung infection can be resistant to certain antibiotics, so it can take some time to find the right ones for each patient.
Nocardiosis VA Disability Rating
On the lung infection VA rating chart, nocardiosis rates are similar to actinomycosis. When you are actively sick with the disease, you will be given a 100% rating, but this is often temporary, provided that you recover from the disease and don’t develop any other long-term symptoms.
VA Disability for COPD and Other Lung Conditions
There are a lot of VA disabilities that act like COPD. The VA will only give you a VA rating for COPD if you have a service connection, so get your facts and records together before you apply.
What is a Chronic Lung Abscess?
While both nocardiosis and actinomycosis cause lung abscesses, sometimes you can get a lung abscess caused by unknown bacteria that lingers for 6 weeks or longer–in this situation, you would be diagnosed with a chronic lung abscess. Chronic lung abscesses are also usually caused by inhaling some kind of bacteria that would normally live in your mouth into your lungs. This leads to an infection that causes a pus-filled cavity to grow in your lung. The abscess is usually also surrounded by inflamed tissue due to the infection.
Symptoms of a Chronic Lung Abscess
Signs that you have a chronic lung abscess may start slowly at first, as the infection worsens in your lungs. Symptoms of a lung abscess include:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Night sweats
- A mixture of saliva, mucus, and pus that is coughed up and has a foul odor, sour taste, and streaked with blood
- Weight loss
Causes of a Lung Abscess
There are a number of reasons that you may have bacteria that travel into your lungs. Some causes of a chronic lung abscess are:
- An inability to cough due to anesthesia, alcohol or drug use, nervous system diseases, or sedation
- Gum disease or other oral health issues
- A poor immune system
- A blocked airway
- Bacteria or blood clots from an infected part of your body that travels into the lungs
Here one of our VA disability lawyers talks about how SMC (Special Monthly Compensation) works to help you get more money for extra expenses related to your disabling condition every month.
Diagnosis and Treatment of a Chronic Lung Abscess
In order to diagnose a chronic lung abscess, your doctor will probably order an X-ray or CT scan of your chest to look for lumps or fluid. They may also use a tube to collect tissue from the lungs in order to test for a bacterial infection.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics directly into your veins for 3-8 weeks followed by oral antibiotics until the abscess is gone. If your abscess is larger than 6-inches, you may have to have it surgically drained. In really severe cases, you may have to undergo surgery to remove the abscess or the entire lung if the infection has spread too far to be cured by antibiotics.
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Chronic Lung Abscess VA Disability Rating
As with the other bacterial lung infections we’ve discussed here, a chronic lung abscess qualifies you for 100% disability while you still have the abscess. If you make a full recovery, you may be removed from disability, but of course, there are many complications that can arise. Additionally, because the disease is chronic, you may be on disability for quite some time or develop additional abscesses.
Additional Lung Infections on the VA Rating Scale
Many of the bacterial lung infections that we discussed above fall under the interstitial lung disease rating scale, because they can cause permanent scarring to the lungs, which would qualify you for long-term disability benefits.
You may also be classified as having either restrictive or obstructive lung disease due to a bacterial lung infection. Because the lungs are involved, you will often experience difficulty either inhaling or exhaling, which will push you into a whole other rating scale and maybe get you additional benefits. These diseases are interconnected and can both cause and be caused by bacteria infections. Chronic bronchitis, for example, is usually caused by other lung diseases including upper respiratory infections.
Because the lungs are subject to a variety of different issues, it is especially important to have all of your paperwork in order and make sure that you are presenting each of the various issues that you are suffering from. Woods & Woods can help you sift through all of the various illnesses and ensure that you are getting your full benefits.
Are Bacterial Lung Infections Cancerous?
No, while the abscesses that form can be mistaken for cancerous tumors, they are directly connected to the bacterial infection, and once the infection has cleared up, the abscess should disappear. In most cases, surgery to remove the abscess will not be necessary, and no other treatments aside from antibiotics should be required. Most patients with bacterial lung infections make a full recovery.
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How to Get VA Disability for a Bacterial Lung Infection
For each of the issues, you are experiencing you will need a diagnosis from a VA-approved doctor. You will also then need to prove a service connection. For bacterial lung infections, that will usually involve showing how you were exposed to the bacteria during your term of service. Additionally, if you experienced an injury that made you more susceptible to infection, there is a case to make that this would be enough of a service connection to qualify you for VA disability benefits.
Then, because of the way the VA ratings for respiratory problems work, you should also undergo pulmonary function tests, to show the severity of your condition and the way in which is affecting your daily life. There are three different pulmonary function tests that you may be asked to complete in order to get your disability rating, the spirometry test, lung volumes test, and diffusion capacity of the lung. Each of the tests measures a different function that your lungs are supposed to be able to perform, and the ability they currently have to complete those tasks.
The VA has a fairly straightforward way of giving out ratings based on your performance on those tests, and your VA disability rating will correlate directly to those numbers. In some cases with a bacterial lung infection, you might not lose a great deal of lung capacity, but while you have the infection, you should still qualify for full disability benefits. If you have been denied these benefits, a VA disability lawyer such as Woods & Woods can help you to plead your case and ensure that you’re getting the full benefits that you deserve.
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FAQs about Bacterial Lung Infections and VA Disability
Not if the service-connection still fits. If your condition can still be service-connected because of what you experienced, they will still grant your claim. The key is showing the nexus between your current condition and what you were subjected to in the service.
You could have bacteria growing in your mouth or throat harmlessly for years before they are inhaled and cause problems in your lungs. You could also have the bacteria for years but only as you get older can your body not fight it off as well. Talk to our team about your timeline and your symptoms and we’ll see if you still have a chance to apply for benefits.