If you served in the military and have recently started to experience shortness of breath, a nagging cough, chest tightness, and other respiratory symptoms, you could have a military lung disease like Pulmonary Fibrosis. Veterans who developed respiratory conditions after being exposed to environmental factors like asbestos and burn pits during active military duty may qualify for VA benefits.
So, whether you’re googling “Vietnam vets and pulmonary fibrosis” or “Iraq veterans respiratory problems,” you’re in the right place. Keep reading to learn all about pulmonary fibrosis, VA ratings, and the next steps to get the help you deserve.
In this article about burn pits and pulmonary fibrosis:
- From Asbestos to Burn Pits: How Environmental Factors Impact Veterans
- What Is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
- What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis?
- Types of VA Benefits
- VA Disability Rating for Pulmonary Fibrosis
- VA Disability Pulmonary Function Tests
- VA Benefits for Pulmonary Fibrosis
- Let Us Help You Apply for VA Disability
From Asbestos to Burn Pits: How Environmental Factors Impact Veterans
Just like many Vietnam veterans developed various forms of respiratory cancer after being exposed to Agent Orange, many other veterans have developed pulmonary fibrosis, making them eligible for disability from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
These days, asbestos’s impact is well known, including that it can cause irreparable damage when inhaled or ingested. So, what does that mean for the millions of soldiers who served between the years of 1935 and 1975 when the armed forces extensively used asbestos? The hazardous material was found in ships, tanks, barracks, aircraft, and many other infrastructure projects. What’s more, various military vehicles had asbestos in their gaskets, hood liners, brakes, and clutches. Additionally, army bases are filled with asbestos, including cement mixtures, sprayed coating, and plumbing systems. It’s there from the ceiling to the floor!
Why is asbestos so dangerous? When you inhale asbestos, some airborne fibers may become lodged within the tiny sacs inside your lungs (alveoli) where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood. Asbestos fibers can lead to irritation, inflammation, and scarring — these cause symptoms that primarily affect the lungs.
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers discusses how asbestos exposure during military service can lead to health issues later in life:
Additionally, many veterans were exposed to the toxic air from burn pits — large waste disposal sites that were used at every military forward operating base (FOB) in the past two decades. Smoke from the numerous chemicals burning in the pits blew across military posts and seeped into living areas — it has since been linked to a number of forms of lung diseases in veterans. Due to this, pulmonary fibrosis now has a presumed connection for qualifying Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to toxins from burn pits.
What VA Disabilities Are Linked to Burn Pit Exposure?
Which conditions are most often linked and rated because of burn pit exposure? We list them all out here.
What Is Pulmonary Fibrosis?
Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where the tissue found deep in the lungs becomes scarred and becomes thick and stiff, making it hard for you to catch your breath, and your blood may not get enough oxygen. As the condition worsens, you become progressively more short of breath — this can make accomplishing daily tasks like light housework and office work extremely challenging.
The lung damage caused by pulmonary fibrosis cannot be repaired. There are medications and therapies that can help make symptoms manageable.
Causes of pulmonary fibrosis include environmental pollutants, like asbestos, some medicines, some connective tissue diseases, and interstitial lung disease — a large group of lung diseases that inflame and scar the lungs. In most cases of PF, the cause can’t be found; this is called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
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What are the Symptoms of Pulmonary Fibrosis?
The following symptoms are associated with pulmonary fibrosis:
- Shortness of breath
- Excess mucus
- Dry, hacking cough that never goes away
- Weight loss
- Aching muscles and joints
- Clubbing — the widening and rounding of the tips of the fingers or toes
Over time, the frequency and severity of symptoms can trigger more significant respiratory diseases.
Many veterans have won their cases against the US government for lung conditions, including pulmonary fibrosis, that were the result of military service.
Here are some tips on your C&P exam from one of our VA disability lawyers.
What About Sarcoidosis and Iraq Veterans?
Sarcoidosis and Iraq veterans is a topic that we get many questions on. In fact, a federal study of military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan found that their exposure to harsh environmental conditions like burning trash, Styrofoam, medical waste, and other hazardous items that release toxins, coupled with their exposure to sandstorms, explosive devices, and outdoor allergens put them at great risk for developing pulmonary problems. The agency found that X-rays and CT scans found that some soldiers had titanium and other metals in their lungs while others developed fulminant biopsy-proven sarcoidosis.
Types of VA Benefits
There are few kinds of VA benefits, including:
- Disability compensation — This tax-free monetary benefit is paid to veterans who have disabilities caused by disease or injury during active service. These are called “service-connected” conditions. Compensation can also be paid for post-service disabilities that are considered secondary to disabilities in service and for disabilities presumed to be caused by circumstances of military service, even if they don’t arise until after service.
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) — This is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to the surviving spouse, kids, or parents of service members who died as a result of their military service. This could be while on active duty, training, or inactive duty training in addition to the survivors of veterans who died from service-connected disabilities.
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) — This additional benefit is also tax-free. It can be paid to veterans, their spouses, children, or parents. For veterans, SMC is a higher rate of compensation that is paid because of special circumstances, like the need for aid and attendance by another person or a specific disability, like the loss of use of one limb. You can get SMC to help you keep your house clean or to pay for in home care.
VA Disability Rating for Pulmonary Fibrosis
The VA awards disability compensation separately for each service-connected respiratory condition.
When evaluating service-connected disabilities, the VA uses a “Schedule of Ratings” to classify different levels of symptoms into percentages of disability. Ratings are represented by a percentage that is rounded to the nearest 10%. There are different tests to calculate the rating of each individual patient’s condition.
The VA bases its ratings for the respiratory system on:
- How well the lungs take in air
- How well the lungs absorb oxygen into the blood
- How well the lungs exhale leftover gasses
When evaluating and diagnosing respiratory disorders, the VA commonly uses pulmonary function tests for rating criteria, such as:
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC)
- Forced Expiratory Volume measured over 1 second (FEV-1)
- The ratio of FEV-1 to Forced Vital Capacity (FCV)
- The lung’s Diffusion Capacity for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB))
- Exercise testing
VA Disability Pulmonary Function Tests
A pulmonary function test (PFT) is used to measure how much air you can inhale and exhale and how much carbon monoxide can enter the bloodstream within a certain period of time. PFTs are non-invasive and are typically performed during the initial diagnosis and periodically afterward to gauge the severity of your condition. PFTs help determine whether an obstructive or restrictive disease is present, in addition to finding the location of a defect. PFTs measure three aspects of lung function:
- Lung volumes
- Diffusion capacity of the lung
These measurements are intended to show how effectively you can breathe and how well your lungs deliver oxygen throughout the body.
Preparing for Pulmonary Function Tests
Before your PFT, your doctor will provide specific instructions to help you prepare. Commonly, this includes avoiding alcohol, smoking, caffeine, and heavy exercise before your test.
Exercise Test (Stress Test)
The exercise test, also known as the stress test, determines how much oxygen is being used by your body when it performs at maximum capacity — the greatest amount of physical activity that you can “repeat and sustain.”
How the Spirometry Test Works
Spirometry is the most common form of PFT because it is the easiest, quickest, and most readily available. The VA rating system depends primarily on spirometry results when evaluating respiratory disorders.
A spirometer is a hand-held device that your doctor will have you breathe into. You will take a deep breath and exhale as hard as you can for at least six seconds while a small machine records the strength of the exhale. The test is repeated two to three times to ensure accurate results. There are two main functions of the spirometer:
- Measures the forced vital capacity (FVC) — the amount of air that can be forcibly blown out after deep inhalation.
- Measures the forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) — the amount of air forcibly blown out within the first second of an exhale. The FEV1 can determine the degree of obstruction of the air through the lungs — mild, moderate, or severe.
The spirometry test will require you to take a deep breath and then blow it out as hard and fast as you can. Make sure you don’t try to cheat and blow softly to make it look like your lungs don’t work! The result is not just a number, but it is interpreted by the doctor watching you take the test. Depending on how fast, how much, and the quality of the air that you blow out, you’ll receive a FEV-1/FVC score that corresponds to the following rating schedule.
This chart shows an example of the FEV-1 level as it relates to an Asthma VA rating.
|FEV-1/FVC Level||VA Disability Rating for Asthma|
|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 combination of other issues listed below||100% VA Rating|
The VA disability rating system is often complicated and hard to understand. When you count on an experienced attorney to plead your case, you’ll have all of your questions answered every step of the way. Your attorney will fight to make sure you get the help you need for your service-connected condition.
VA Benefits for Pulmonary Fibrosis
If you have been diagnosed with service-connected fibrosis, you are entitled to VA benefits.
In order to qualify, your disability must be the result of an injury or disease that happened or was aggravated by active military duty or training.
When applying for compensation benefits, you will need to have access to the following:
- Discharge or separation papers (DD214 or equivalent)
- Medical evidence (doctor and hospital reports)
- Dependency records (marriage and children’s birth certificates)
One way to file for VA benefits is to apply online at www.va.gov/disability. There is also an option to submit a paper application by downloading and completing VA Form 21-526EZ, “Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits,” and mailing it to:
US Department of Veterans Affairs
Claims Intake Center
PO Box 4444
Janesville, WI 53547-4444
You should call us before you apply to make sure you get all of the help you can. The call is free and you are under no obligation to have us handle your case. If we do take your case, we don’t charge you a fee unless we win.
Let Us Help You Apply for VA Disability
Whether your claim has been denied or you don’t think you are getting the correct amount of benefits, our team of dedicated VA benefits attorneys is here to fight for your rights. We have experience helping veterans get their cases re-evaluated and file appeals to increase disability ratings.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to serve disabled veterans better in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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If you have symptoms of both of these, you will probably not get a rating for each of them because of the avoidance of pyramiding. The good news is that the symptoms of one will help make the rating for the other one higher. The VA is required to give you the rating that gives you the highest amount of money for your symptoms, regardless of the diagnosis. If your symptoms earn you 60% for pulmonary fibrosis but 100% for COPD, the VA has to give you 100% disability.
The average life expectancy after a pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis is 3-5 years. There is new research that is slowing down the spread, but there is still no complete cure. People with IPF can still have a lasting quality of life for a few years after diagnosis.