Yes, you can. Many pulmonary (lung-related) conditions qualify for VA disability ratings. Conditions that the VA will consider for a disability application or appeal include:
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Chronic Bronchiectasis
- Chronic Tuberculosis
- Bacterial Infections of the Lung
- Sleep Apnea Syndrome
You can search across any of these specific terms in the search in the top right of this site to find more information on any of these specific issues.
- How is COPD Rated as a Disability?
- VA Ratings for COPD and Other Lung Disabilities
- How to Get a 100% VA Rating for COPD Disability
- Your Respiratory Disease May be Asthma and Not COPD
- You Can Only Get One Rating for Your Lungs
- Are Bronchiectasis VA Benefits Better than COPD Benefits?
- What is the VA Rating for Emphysema?
- Smoking Is a Lead Cause of COPD and VA Denials
- Start your Claim for More than Just a COPD VA Rating
How is COPD Rated as a Disability?
The ratings for COPD all depend on how much your FEV‒1 test results turn out. FEV stands for forced expiratory volume. It is a test to see how much air you can blow out of your lungs in one second. This rating of lung function is used and recorded to measure the progress of your COPD as well as diagnosing it in the first place. You’ll typically get a dose from an inhaler before you take the FEV because they measure it when you are at your best. Don’t worry, they take that boost into consideration. You’ll get a GOLD rating in a range from 1-4. Those GOLD ratings then combine with another test called the FVC (Forced Vital Capacity). Basically, they are measuring airflow limitation by the amount of air you can blow out and how fast. Any sort of airflow obstruction by weakness or illness will show up in those tests.
VA Ratings for COPD and Other Lung Disabilities
|FEV-1/FVC Level||VA Disability Rating for COPD|
|71%-80% of what is expected||10% VA Rating|
|56%-70% of what is expected||30% VA Rating|
|40%-55% or max oxygen consumption of 15-20 ml/kg/min||60% VA Rating|
|Less than 40% or a bunch of other issues listed below||100% VA Rating|
How to Get a 100% VA Rating for COPD Disability
If you get to the point where your FEV-1/FVC is less than 55%, you get into the range of 60% VA disability. The thing about the COPD percent rating is that there are other factors that come into play when you are in this range. If you have any failure in the right side of your heart, pulmonary hypertension, DLCO tests under 40%, or hit your maximum exercise capacity with less than 15 ml/kg/min of oxygen, you are bumped up to 100% COPD disability benefits.
There are various factors that you can bring up with your doctor when expressing how severe your COPD is.
- How often do you cough?
- How often does your chest feel tight and uncomfortable?
- Are you limited in the things you can do around your house?
- Do you feel comfortable going out in public or is it too exerting?
- How do you sleep?
- Are you very energetic or are you lethargic and sleepy?
- Do you regularly cough up phlegm or do you spit a lot?
- Are you out of breath after climbing a staircase or walking outside?
These are symptoms that can show your doctor how severe your COPD has progressed. Keeping notes or a journal to help you remember these will also help. You may only get one C&P Exam to review these respiratory conditions so tell them about every one of your episodes. Forgetting one episode a year can mean the difference in hundreds of dollars per month for the rest of your life.
Your Respiratory Disease May be Asthma and Not COPD
If your FEV-1 score is in one of the above ranges for a rating but you aren’t diagnosed with COPD, you might ask about asthma. The ratings work the same way but the diagnostic code is 6602 instead of 6604. Chest X-Rays and CT Scans might reveal lung damage or other symptoms that put you out of COPD and into an asthma diagnosis. They are treated differently and are triggered by different events, so you’ll be glad to get the correct diagnosis.
Lung infections can also mimic COPD or make asthma worse temporarily. If you had asthma when you enlisted and it got worse during your service, you can still apply for disability benefits. Service-connected disabilities don’t always have to be the cause, but simply making an existing condition worse can justify VA benefits.
Since asthma is sometimes reversible and is brought on irregularly, it may be more difficult to get a VA rating for asthma. Make sure that you don’t self-diagnose yourself at your C&P exam with asthma instead of COPD. While your lifestyle would be better to have asthma rather than COPD, you want to have an honest diagnosis from the VA. You don’t want to suffer from COPD on an asthma rating budget.
You Can Only Get One Rating for Your Lungs
Another important reason go get an accurate diagnosis for your lung disabilities that the VA is only going to give you one rating for your lungs. COPD is more likely to be a permanent decision while asthma or bronchitis are going to come under review every 5-10 years. While it is possible that you could have multiple problems with your respiratory system, the VA is only going to rate you for the one that will give you the highest single rating.
Make sure you talk to your doctor about all of your symptoms. If you are a Persian Gulf War veteran, your lung issues might fall under a presumptive service-connection. There may be more changes as the VA decides what to do about burn pits. In any case, you want to get professional help with your claim to make sure all of the details are in order.
Are Bronchiectasis VA Benefits Better than COPD Benefits?
The difference between Bronchiectasis and COPD is that bronchiectasis involves more mucus and inflammation in the breathing passages. COPD has more to do with actual damage to the lungs themselves. Both are chronic and usually worsen over time. Both carry with them all of the other symptoms and conditions that go with breathing problems: fatigue, shortness of breath, heavy or tight chest, and coughing.
The treatment you receive from the VA will be different, but the rating codes for disability work the same. They are all measured by how much air you can move out in one second. The difference for some veterans is in the bronchiectasis complications. Bronchiectasis patients also carry a high risk of artery damage. They have been linked in some studies, so as you have your C&P exam for your breathing, have your heart checked out too. COPD has a different link to left-sided heart failure, so it isn’t much better. While you can only get one rating for your lungs, you can also only get one rating for heart conditions, but if you are eligible, try to get both!
What is the VA Rating for Emphysema?
Emphysema is a specific type of COPD, so all of the ratings work the same way as in the table above. With COPD, the walls of the lungs are damaged or injured, so they don’t work as efficiently as they should. They can be clogged with foreign material (inhaling smoke from a burn pit, agent orange, car exhaust, or cigarettes) or they could be damaged from injuries such as a burn or inhaled saltwater. https://www.woodslawyers.com/burn-pit-exposure-va-disability-benefits-claims-veterans/
Emphysema is specifically the form of COPD in which part of the walls of the lungs are damaged completely. They can’t be enflamed or covered in mucus because they are dead. While a person can still survive with only one lung, that remaining lung has to have a healthy lining in order for it to function properly.
If you can prove that you were around a burn pit in Iraq or Afghanistan, you might already be close to getting a service-connected COPD rating. As of September 2019, there were 186,180 veterans participating in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. https://veteran.mobilehealth.va.gov/AHBurnPitRegistry/ There are very few Vietnam vets out there that aren’t finally getting some kind of COPD agent orange benefits. If you aren’t, call us and we’ll figure out why.
Smoking Is a Lead Cause of COPD and VA Denials
Since COPD is most often caused by smoking, there are a lot of veterans that are denied COPD VA disability because the VA blames the veteran for smoking and causing their own COPD. However, not everyone that smokes gets emphysema. If you can show that you were exposed to asbestos or other harmful materials, you have a much better chance of proving the service-connection of your COPD. This also works for surviving spouses on DIC claims. If a woman has proof that her husband served in a work area that was full of diesel exhaust, lime, dust, dioxin, and cleaning solvents because it was a heavy equipment garage, she may be able to prove that his death was caused by service-connected COPD.
Even if you have plenty of evidence to show whatever obstructive lung disease you have was caused by an event in the service, the VA is going to try to show you did it yourself. Any effort you can show to improve yourself will send the message to them that you are not a fool. Hire a professional certified VA disability lawyer to submit your claim. Quit smoking and show that you can make healthy choices. Show a record of medical care that sends the VA the message that you are trying to live your best life in light of your disability. This can all help the doctors and judges that are making the decision to see that you deserve to be compensated for the risks you took on when you served our country.
Start your Claim for More than Just a COPD VA Rating
Sometimes as we work with our veterans, we find out they may also be eligible for a C-Pap machine, SMC benefits, or an Aid and Attendance benefit. We’ve helped thousands of veterans from every branch, wartime or peacetime, men and women, get the VA benefits they deserve. If you have a respiratory failure or any other lung problems that you believe could be related to your time in the service, call us today. The call is free and we’ll do all the paperwork. We only get paid 20% of your back pay and case expenses if the VA claim is successful.
Yes, if you can prove a service connection, you can get rated for COPD which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
The rating will vary depending on what your FEV-1/FVC Level is. Check out this chart to see where your FEV-1 level lines up.
Yes and No. You can get VA disability for one of those diagnoses, but not both. The VA is required to give you whichever rating is higher, so if you have both, make sure you get the higher rating.