Constrictive bronchiolitis is a rare respiratory condition that is difficult to diagnose. Veterans might notice their first symptoms when having difficulty exercising due to shortness of breath.
The disease has been commonly reported in veterans exposed to toxins from burn pits. Until recently, veterans who had a diagnosis had to work harder and wait longer to receive VA disability benefits for the condition. Following the passage of the PACT Act in 2022, the VA now presumes that veterans with constrictive bronchiolitis who served in specific locations and periods got the condition from their service.
The VA does not have a specific disability rating diagnostic code in its Schedule for Rating Disabilities for the condition, so it assigns a rating by comparing the severity of a veteran’s symptoms with similar respiratory diseases listed in the ratings schedule.
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In this article about VA ratings for constrictive bronchiolitis
What is constrictive bronchiolitis?
Constrictive bronchiolitis, also referred to as bronchiolitis obliterans or obliterative bronchiolitis, is a rare respiratory disease affecting the bronchial airways. The disease compresses and narrows the small airways of the lungs, known as the bronchioles, with fibrosis (or scar tissue).
Symptoms, such as shortness of breath, can be mistaken for exercise-induced asthma, COPD, or other respiratory illness. Accurately diagnosing constrictive bronchiolitis is difficult. Many people with the condition get normal results from X-rays, CT scans, and pulmonary function tests. The only way to accurately diagnose constrictive bronchiolitis is through a lung biopsy, which can be an expensive and risky procedure.
Considering there is no specific treatment or cure for the condition, many patients may not see a reason for a diagnosis. But for veterans, a lung biopsy may be the only way they can get a diagnosis to receive VA disability benefits.
Symptoms of constrictive bronchiolitis
Symptoms of constrictive bronchiolitis can mirror asthma, making the more serious condition hard to diagnose and historically hard to prove when filing for VA disability benefits. The condition is rare in the civilian population.
Constrictive bronchiolitis is often detected when a person has difficulty exercising or doing activities requiring physical exertion. Symptoms can include:
- Dry cough
- Shortness of breath
- Fatigue and wheezing without a link to a cold or asthma
Service members may become aware of the condition if they are unable to meet the military’s physical training requirement.
Constrictive bronchiolitis in veterans
Constrictive bronchiolitis has been seen in service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. These military conflicts are known for burn pits that were frequently used to dispose of solid waste and emitted harmful chemicals and toxic substances into the air. Constrictive bronchiolitis is one of more than 20 new presumptive conditions added for burn pits and other toxic exposures under the PACT Act.
A 2011 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine evaluated 80 soldiers from Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who could no longer meet U.S. Army standards for physical fitness following service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the soldiers, 38 (or just under half) were diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis after abnormal lung biopsies.
One of the authors of that study, Dr. Robert Miller, advocated for including constrictive bronchiolitis on the list of presumptive conditions related to burn pits.
“If we see someone who has been deployed and has the symptoms we have the ability to say, you’re at high risk for having this deployment-related lung injury or constrictive bronchiolitis,” he told the Nashville Post. “Hopefully with this PACT Act, the entire VA system will be more aware of these people and do a better job than they have done in the past in assessing them.”
VA rating for constrictive bronchiolitis
Constrictive bronchiolitis does not have its own diagnostic code under the VA’s Schedule for Rating Disabilities. Instead, analogous ratings, or closely rated conditions, are used to determine the amount of disability benefits a veteran is eligible to receive.
The VA references diagnostic codes 6600 through 6604 diseases of the trachea and bronchi when rating constrictive bronchiolitis. These codes offer ratings for chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, bronchial asthma, pulmonary emphysema, and COPD. The disability ratings for these respiratory diseases can range from 10% to 100% and depend on the capacity and efficiency of lung function (measured by pulmonary function tests) and whether episodes of respiratory failure are present.
Getting VA disability benefits for constrictive bronchiolitis
Now that constrictive bronchiolitis is a presumed service-connected condition for veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits, a veteran seeking VA disability benefits does not need to present evidence that connects the condition with their military service–called the medical nexus.
Veterans who served in the following locations qualify for presumptive service connection for this condition:
- Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and United Arab Emirates after Aug. 2, 1990
- Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, and Yemen after Sept. 11, 2001
Benefits of contacting Woods and Woods
If you are a veteran and have been diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis, or believe you have the symptoms, it could be related to your military service. For help filing your VA disability claim or for help appealing a VA decision, contact the team at Woods and Woods for guidance. We never charge veterans for assistance filing the initial application, and if we appeal your case, you don’t pay us unless we win.
Our VA-certified disability benefits lawyers have helped thousands of veterans get the benefits they deserve.
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