If you are a veteran with a persistent cough, trouble breathing that affects your sleep or daily activities, and feel that your lungs were affected by your service, you might be eligible for bronchitis VA disability benefits. We have helped thousands of veterans work through the difficult process of applying for VA benefits. Many of them had bronchitis, COPD, asthma, or chest pains as a result of a service-connected disability. If you have been diagnosed with any of those conditions and feel that your time in the service caused it, call us for a free consultation. There is no obligation and you’ll want to see how much our expertise can help.
In this article on VA disability for bronchitis:
- The VA rates these conditions the same way
- What causes bronchitis in veterans?
- Deciding your bronchitis VA rating percentage
- Permanent 70% disability with COPD vs. total disability with asthma
- VA disability rating for chronic bronchitis vs. pneumonia
- How to live with chronic bronchitis and secondary service-connected disabilities
There are several different disabilities that show symptoms that overlap. When you apply for VA benefits, the VA is required by law to grant you a rating on the condition that pays the most. That means that if you would only get a 10% rating for your symptoms listed as asthma but a 30% rating for the same symptoms listed as COPD, the VA must give you the 30% COPD rating. There are other benefits to this as we’ll explain below.
The VA rates these conditions the same way
There is a whole group of VA disabilities that they treat the same way. There are minor differences in some of the benefits and how they relate to other benefits, so make sure you have help. You can download the documents directly from the VA here. They are called the category of Diseases OF THE TRACHEA AND BRONCHI. They cover:
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Bronchial Asthma
- COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
They all fall under the 6600 diagnostic code, and they cannot be combined. You could combine an amputated finger and arthritis in your hand, but with the lungs, the VA works differently. Even if you have separate symptoms, you can only receive a rating for one of these diagnoses. Bronchitis stands out among these because it isn’t so much a condition that is in the lungs as it is in the bronchial tubes that connect your lungs to your mouth.
What causes bronchitis in veterans?
Bronchitis happens when the lining of your windpipe is irritated and there is a buildup of mucus from the irritant. It can go away in a couple of days and you can be back to normal, or the lining of your windpipe can be injured and be irritated for the rest of your life. It’s not so much as a lung disease initially. Imagine breathing through a dryer hose, but then through a garden hose, and then through a straw. That is how bronchitis progresses. As your lungs work harder to push and pull air through that little space, they take on their own problems. This is why chronic bronchitis goes hand in hand with COPD. Your lungs get tired of working so hard with your windpipe that they start to deteriorate too.
Asbestos debris, diesel exhaust, poison gas, agent orange, Persian Gulf sand, cigarette smoke, whatever is in burn pits and other inhaled pollutants can all cause bronchitis. Those are all nasty things and the degree of your bronchitis is directly related to what and how much you’ve inhaled. Many of those materials are invisible to the naked eye, so the effects of prolonged exposure might come as a surprise.
Soldiers that served in the Persian Gulf are particularly prone to lung issues because the sand in Southwest Asia is so fine. As it is carried into the air by helicopters, dust is kicked up by trucks, or it is literally thrown into the air by explosions, it can easily drift into your lungs while you are thinking about more important things.
Deciding your bronchitis VA rating percentage
One way to know that you have bronchitis is by what happens when you cough. While emphysema will make you wheeze and COPD makes your chest tight like you can’t breathe, bronchitis is unique. One of bronchitis tell-tale symptoms is coughing up phlegm (FLEM) or sputum. It might sound gross, but the color of what you hack up when you cough can help explain the cause of your bronchitis and how far it has progressed. Yellow or green phlegm can be a sign of pneumonia or another lung infection. Black or brown phlegm or sputum means that you probably inhaled something that was burning, like coal, tar from a cigarette, or burning poison in an Iraqi burn pit. Blood in your phlegm is a serious sign that you should seek medical advice on immediately. If it’s not bloody, call us. If it’s bloody, call 911.
As you talk to your doctor about your bronchitis, he or she will want to do a spirometry test. A spirometry test is important because it can accurately measure the injury to your lungs. You might think you can adjust your rating if you don’t blow in it very hard. Or you might try to fail the test by not taking a very deep breath. It’s a lot more complicated than that. You will be given some medicine via inhaler before your spirometry test. This will make it easier to breathe, but they know that and consider that in the measurements. They know that even if you are on three different inhalers you still need to be rated for your bronchitis.
A spirometry test can diagnose a lot of different lung diseases based on the various measurements from the device. It is important that you take a deep breath and blow out as much as you can for your test. Holding back or faking on your test can not only result in a misdiagnosis, but the treatment for that misdiagnosis can cause you more harm than good. There are home spirometry units, but they are not recommended. Their purpose is to train you to breathe deeply after a surgery or an illness, not take precise measurements. Those are called incentive spirometers.
After your spirometry test, the doctor will interpret the numbers and give you a few different scores. The combination of those scores can diagnose a number of lung diseases based on your lung volume, lung force, amount of CO2, and other symptoms you showed.
Additionally, chronic bronchitis is listed as a presumptive condition in qualifying circumstances. If you are a Gulf War or post-9/11 era veteran who was exposed to toxins from burn pits during service and you have chronic bronchitis, you may qualify for an assumed service connection.
Permanent 70% disability with COPD vs. total disability with asthma
Remember that the VA has to give you the highest rating of whatever lung disease you have? If you have asthma and bronchitis, there are times where you would actually prefer one rating over another. Asthma and Bronchitis are lung diseases that come and go and in some cases even improve. COPD, on the other hand, is not considered a disability that will improve. For the ratings that are considered to improve, you won’t get a permanent rating. You’ll have to go back to the VA in 5-10 years for another C&P exam to see if you should still be rated for asthma.
Getting a permanent rating of 70% for COPD is much better than getting a 100% rating for asthma. Here’s why: In order to get 100% TDIU, you only have to have one rating over 70% plus another rating. You can have 70% COPD and 10% arthritis and receive the same amount of money as 100% asthma, but it would be permanent. No more reviews and tests to keep your benefits for as long as you live.
VA disability rating for chronic bronchitis vs. pneumonia
When you go in for a checkup, they are going to check a lot of your symptoms. While Chronic Bronchitis is a disability, pneumonia is a treatable illness. At the same time, document the number of times in a year that you have pneumonia, because that can be a factor in getting a higher VA disability rating. Pheumonia is common when you can’t get enough air in and out of your lungs to flush out fluid. Pneumonia is an increase of fluid on the lungs, so Chronic Bronchitis will cause you to get pneumonia more often as it progresses.
Bronchial pneumonia happens when the infection is in your windpipe instead of your lungs. This causes even more phlegm buildup than normal bronchitis and can be very serious if left untreated. You may be diagnosed with pneumonia but not bronchitis. If that is the case, be sure to go back to the doctor when you are over your pneumonia for a spirometry test. If you get low scores on the test when you obviously don’t have pneumonia, you just proved your bronchitis or other lingering lung diseases.
Acute bronchitis lasts about 3 weeks. You’ll cough, be short of breath, spit out some gross stuff, and then get better. If you don’t kick it for 3 months, you are classified as having chronic bronchitis. At that point, it is no longer a viral infection or a bad case of bacterial pneumonia, you have some permanent damage to your respiratory system.
How to live with chronic bronchitis and secondary service-connected disabilities
If you have Chronic Bronchitis, you should drink a lot of fluids. It is a pain since you are probably also taking water pills and it will just make you use the bathroom a lot, but keeping your respiratory system well hydrated will help all of that mucus stay thin and easy to cough out. It will help your circulation and thereby your heart also. You can’t be rated for Asthma and Bronchitis, but you will probably want to add on some degree of sleep apnea. Veterans with breathing problems related to asthmatic bronchitis are probably also dealing with sleep apnea and don’t realize it.
Your weakened immune system also would benefit from a healthy diet and exercise, at whatever level you can manage. Talk to your doctor about quitting smoking and any sort of programs you can get into through the local VFW or VA clinic if one is close. Bronchitis doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Many veterans continue to enjoy their lives for many years after being diagnosed and starting VA benefits.
Time needed: 2 hours.
How to Take a Spirometry Test
- Wear comfortable clothing.
You are going to be taking a bunch of deep breaths, so you want to be able to move around freely.
- Take your inhalers and other medications.
The technician will want to know all of the medications you are taking. You might be asked to use your inhaler before the test, or they may give you a specific inhaler/prescription to use.
- Put on nose clips to restrict your nose
If any of your breath is lost out of your nose, the measurements won’t be accurate.
- Breath normally
You’ll take a few breaths before you start so you don’t pass out!
- Take a deep breath!
Breathe in deep as far as you can. Sit up straight and take the deepest breath you can.
- Blow it out as hard as you can
As soon as you take the biggest breath you can blow it out as hard and fast as you can. This should exert you as you give it all you’ve got.
- Keep going! Blow out all of the air you can
Beyond your initial gust, keep blowing until you are completely out of air. Wear yourself out on this because your VA benefits are riding on it!
- Rest and repeat
Your technician or doctor will probably have you repeat this process 3 times to get accurate numbers. Comply with their requests and play along because their rating is directly related to your VA disability benefit for bronchitis.
We’ve helped thousands of Veterans apply for benefits for COPD, Sleep Apnea, and other lung-related claims. Contact us today to see if we can help you too.