Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is commonly found among veterans and causes significant difficulties with breathing. This respiratory disability can result from environmental exposures during military service, especially exposure to burn pits, mustard gas, and lewisite. The COPD VA rating ranges between 10% and 100%.
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We explain more about how veterans may develop COPD because of their military service, how the VA rates COPD, and what veterans can do if they cannot work because of their COPD.
In this article about the COPD VA rating:
- What is COPD?
- COPD VA rating
- COPD and toxic exposures among veterans
- COPD and common secondary conditions
- How long does it take to get VA disability for COPD?
- TDIU for COPD
- How Woods and Woods can help
What is COPD?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to a group of lung conditions that make it hard to breathe. Common forms of COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are damaged, making it challenging to get oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. Chronic bronchitis involves long-term inflammation of the airways, causing coughing with mucus.
COPD is a significant health issue, affecting more than 15 million Americans, and is consistently one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Research suggests that over 50% of adults with low lung function weren’t aware they had COPD.
For veterans, the risk of developing COPD is even higher. Exposure to certain chemicals, dust, and smoke during military service contributes to this increased risk. Smoking is also a significant cause of COPD, and veterans are more likely to be smokers compared to the general population.
COPD doesn’t just affect a person’s lungs. It can lead to limitations in daily activities and increased hospital visits and can coexist with other chronic diseases. We will explain more about these comorbidities later.
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COPD VA rating
The VA rates COPD under diagnostic code 6604 in the Schedule of Ratings for “Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” The VA bases a veteran’s rating on the results of different lung testing, which we explain below.
Rating criteria for COPD:
|Monthly payment (vet only)
|FEV–1 less than 40 percent of predicted value, or; the ratio of Forced Expiratory Volume in one second to Forced Vital Capacity (FEV–1/FVC) less than 40 percent, or; Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB)) less than 40-percent predicted, or; maximum exercise capacity less than 15 ml/kg/min oxygen consumption (with cardiac or respiratory limitation), or; cor pulmonale (right heart failure), or; right ventricular hypertrophy, or; pulmonary hypertension (shown by Echo or cardiac catheterization), or; episode(s) of acute respiratory failure, or; requires outpatient oxygen therapy.
|FEV–1 of 40- to 55-percent predicted, or; FEV–1/FVC of 40 to 55 percent, or; DLCO (SB) of 40- to 55-percent predicted, or; maximum oxygen consumption of 15 to 20 ml/kg/min (with cardiorespiratory limit)
|FEV–1 of 56- to 70-percent predicted, or; FEV–1/FVC of 56 to 70 percent, or; DLCO (SB) 56- to 65-percent predicted
|FEV–1 of 71- to 80-percent predicted, or; FEV–1/FVC of 71 to 80 percent, or; DLCO (SB) 66- to 80-percent predicted
The VA uses several “pulmonary function lung tests,” or PFTs, to measure the impact of COPD on your lungs. These include:
- Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 Second (FEV-1). This test assesses how much air a person can exhale forcefully in one second.
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC). FVC measures the overall lung capacity.
- Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO-SB). The test measures how effectively the lungs transfer gas to the bloodstream.
COPD and toxic exposures among veterans
Veterans may develop COPD due to various exposures during military service, including exposure to toxins from burn pits, Agent Orange, and mustard gas.
COPD and burn pits
Exposure to burn pits during military service has been linked to COPD and many other respiratory conditions. Due to this connection, the VA recognizes COPD as a presumptive condition for qualifying veterans who served near burn pits.
Veterans with presumptive conditions don’t need to prove that their service caused the condition. They only need to show they meet any service requirements for the presumption.
COPD and mustard gas
Exposure to mustard gas or lewisite, chemicals used in warfare, can lead to severe health conditions, including respiratory problems like COPD. Due to this proven connection, the VA recognizes COPD as a presumptive condition for mustard gas or lewsite exposure.
COPD and Agent Orange
Exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide used in the Vietnam War, is also associated with various health conditions. However, COPD is not currently considered a presumptive condition for Agent Orange exposure.
Veterans who believe Agent Orange caused their COPD may still be able to provide enough evidence on a case by case basis to show their COPD was caused by the exposure. They will not, however, be able to benefit from a presumptive connection.
COPD and common secondary conditions
“COPD often comes with additional health challenges,” said VA disability lawyer Krystal Lechner. “For example, you may be presumptively service-connected for COPD because of your exposure to burn pits. COPD is often known to cause sleep apnea, and sleep apnea can lead to a whole host of other symptoms which may also be rateable, such as headaches or fatigue, and, ultimately, [you could receive] unemployability if you can’t hold a job because of the combined effects of these limitations.”
We’ll take a look at a few of these related secondary conditions below.
COPD and sleep apnea
When COPD and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) coexist, it’s called “overlap syndrome” (OS). This common combination can complicate the treatment and management of both conditions. Excessive daytime sleepiness and frequent waking at night cause consistent fatigue from a lack of uninterrupted sleep and can affect a person’s ability to function.
COPD and mental health conditions
COPD significantly impacts mental health, with conditions like anxiety and depression being more common among COPD patients. People with COPD have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to the general population. In fact, depression has been diagnosed in approximately 40% of COPD patients. The psychological strains of living with COPD, coupled with physical limitations, can also worsen existing mental health issues.
COPD and other common health issues
Veterans with service-connected COPD are at an increased risk for various other health problems. Some of these include:
How long does it take to get VA disability for COPD?
Generally, the process for receiving VA disability benefits for COPD can take several months to years. The VA reviews each case individually, assessing medical evidence and service records to establish a connection between the veteran’s military service and COPD. While the wait time for an initial decision typically takes a few months, veterans who are denied benefits or granted a low rating they disagree with may spend much longer appealing for their full benefits.
Veterans experiencing severe hardships, such as financial distress or terminal illness, can request expedited processing. This option is also available for Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, and veterans of advanced age. Specific age requirements vary depending on whether you are appealing at the VBA or an RO. Expedited claims are processed more quickly, helping eligible veterans receive their benefits sooner.
TDIU for COPD
Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) benefits offer vital support for veterans whose COPD makes work challenging. Difficulty working may also be compounded by other conditions related to a veteran’s COPD, like anxiety or sleep apnea. Severe COPD can hinder a person’s ability to do physical tasks and affect their mood and cognitive abilities, impacting even sedentary jobs.
TDIU provides a pathway for veterans to receive the same compensation as a 100% rating, even when their symptoms do not meet the criteria for a schedular 100% rating. Veterans with COPD or other service-connected conditions that prevent them from maintaining “substantially gainful employment” may be entitled to TDIU.
To be eligible for TDIU, veterans must typically have:
- One service-connected disability rated at least 60% OR
- Two or more service-connected disabilities, with one condition rated at least 40% and a combined rating of at least 70%.
Veterans who do not meet schedular TDIU criteria can also still sometimes qualify for the benefit.
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How Woods and Woods can help
If you need help getting the VA disability benefits you deserve, contact Woods and Woods today. Our team of VA-accredited lawyers, legal analysts, case managers, intake specialists, and support staff is here to assist you. Call or submit your form online today for a free case evaluation. You only pay us if we win.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
The VA rates COPD under diagnostic code 6604 in the Schedule of Ratings for “Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.” Veterans with service-connected COPD may be given a rating of 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100% depending on the severity of their symptoms.
COPD is a presumptive condition for burn pit, mustard gas, and lewisite exposure.
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