Sarcoidosis is a multisystem inflammatory disease that can affect any part of the body, but most often affects the lungs. Sarcoidosis has been commonly associated with military service, particularly among veterans exposed to burn pits. If left untreated, the disease can lead to organ malfunction, and even death. If you’ve been diagnosed with sarcoidosis during or after military service, and your symptoms continue to worsen, you may be eligible for a sarcoidosis VA rating. This article will focus on sarcoidosis of the lungs.
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In this article we describe how the VA rates sarcoidosis, who qualifies for a presumptive service connection for the condition, and how you can get a VA rating for residual conditions from sarcoidosis.
In this article about VA ratings for sarcoidosis:
What is sarcoidosis?
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease characterized by the formation of tiny clusters of inflammatory cells called granulomas. These inflammatory cells can collect in any part of the body, including the lungs, lymph nodes, skin, heart, eyes, and other organs.
The specific sarcoidosis symptoms you may experience vary widely depending on which organs are affected. The most commonly affected areas are the lungs, skin, and lymph nodes.
Typically, patients’ initial symptoms include fatigue and feeling generally unwell. Depending on where granulomas have formed, symptoms of sarcoidosis could include:
- Shortness of breath
- Pain or discomfort in the chest
- Stuffy nose
- Red, sore eyes
- Blurry vision
- Heart arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat
- Pain in the bones
- Swollen glands in the face, neck, armpits, or groin
- Kidney stones
- Bumps or patches on the skin
- Lesions on the nose, cheeks, and ears
- Weight loss
Without diagnosis and treatment, sarcoidosis sufferers may have a harder time carrying out normal, everyday tasks due to difficulty breathing, tiredness, and pain.
Sarcoidosis of the lungs
Pulmonary sarcoidosis, or sarcoidosis of the lungs, is the most common type. In fact, 9 out of every 10 cases of sarcoidosis affect the lungs. Although there are many other types of sarcoidosis, the VA has a diagnostic code for pulmonary sarcoidosis only.
Pulmonary sarcoidosis causes clumps of granulomas to form in the lungs. If these inflamed cells don’t clear up, the lungs can become stiff, leading to pulmonary fibrosis. As symptoms worsen, you may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, and persistent, dry cough.
Sarcoidosis among veterans
The cause of sarcoidosis is still unknown, but doctors report that some patients seem to have a genetic predisposition to developing sarcoidosis that could be triggered by exposure to dust, bacteria, viruses, toxins, and chemicals. Many veterans are commonly exposed to environmental triggers like these during their military service. Sarcoidosis of the lungs is believed to be caused by breathing in fine particles of this type of matter.
VA disability lawyer Krystal Lechner explains, “Small, more fine particles, what the VA has called particulate matter, were more serious in that they could get in deeper in the airway systems and not easily expelled. These small particles can include things like acids and chemicals, metals, soils or dust. The smaller the particle, the more harmful.”
In a study of sarcoidosis among veterans and non-veterans, the veteran population had 4 to 5 times higher annual incidence rates of new sarcoidosis cases compared to non-veterans.
Veterans that served in Afghanistan and parts of Southwest Asia may have been exposed to geological dust, burn pit smoke, and heavy metal condensates. Increased measurements of metal elements have been found in the plasma of veterans with sarcoidosis of the lungs compared with nonveterans. Recently, the VA also added more presumptive conditions to the burn bit presumptive list, opening the door for more veterans to earn benefits for sarcoidosis.
Sarcoidosis and Navy service
Research shows that sarcoidosis can be associated with exposure to certain occupational hazards and particulate matter like mold and bioaerosols. Some studies suggest that Navy personnel in particular might have an increased risk of developing sarcoidosis if they were assigned to certain, more industrial tasks.
In 1974, a 21-year-old Navy service member was diagnosed with sarcoidosis and later received a medical discharge for it. He reported having a cough, chest and joint pain, and dyspnea that he attributed to his work of grinding anti-skid materials from aircraft carrier decks. Although his diagnosis was later changed to pneumoconiosis after mineral dust deposits were found on his lung biopsy, his case launched further studies that concluded that sarcoidosis had a previously unrecognized tie to occupational exposure.
Following that case in 1974, another researcher found that a group of 674 sarcoidosis hospitalizations demonstrated increased odds for diagnosis of sarcoidosis in U.S. Navy personnel that were assigned to an aircraft carrier.
Another study involving two large cohorts of U.S. Navy personnel demonstrated that environmental exposures and specific military occupational duties are associated with increased incidences of sarcoidosis. Navy veterans that were assigned to ship repair, mechanics, and aviation roles were found to be at an increased risk of developing sarcoidosis.
Sarcoidosis as a burn pit presumptive
Burn pits were used widely in U.S. military camps to dispose of waste materials like metal, plastic, wood, medical and human waste, and chemicals. Toxins released into the air from burn pits have led to many health issues for veterans.
The VA added sarcoidosis to the list of burn pit presumptive conditions due to overwhelming evidence showing a link between the condition and burn pit exposure. Since the passing of PACT Act in 2022, the VA assumes that qualifying veterans who were exposed to burn pit toxins and later developed sarcoidosis did so because of their service. As with other presumptive service connections, veterans don’t need to prove the medical connection between their sarcoidosis and their military service. However, they should be prepared to provide a sarcoidosis diagnosis and prove their service qualifies for the presumption.
The VA presumes veterans had exposure to burn pits if they served in any of these locations and time periods:
On or after September 11, 2001, in any of these locations:
- The airspace above any of these locations
On or after August 2, 1990, in any of these locations:
- Saudi Arabia
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- The airspace above any of these location
Sarcoidosis VA rating
The VA rates pulmonary sarcoidosis based on the severity of your symptoms. In addition to reviewing your medical records, the VA will consider your own account of how severely your symptoms affect your everyday life, as well as testimonies from friends and family. As we mentioned above, pulmonary sarcoidosis is the only form of the disease with its own diagnostic code. Sarcoidosis of the lungs is rated under diagnostic code 6846, and can be rated at 0%, 30%, 60%, or 100% disabling.
|Description||VA Rating||Monthly payment (vet only)|
|Cor pulmonale, or; cardiac involvement with congestive heart failure, or; progressive pulmonary disease with fever, night sweats, and weight loss despite treatment||100%||$3,737.85|
|Pulmonary involvement requiring systemic high dose (therapeutic) corticosteroids for control||60%||$1,3161.88|
|Pulmonary involvement with persistent symptoms requiring chronic low dose (maintenance) or intermittent corticosteroids||30%||$524.31|
|Chronic hilar adenopathy or stable lung infiltrates without symptoms or physiologic impairment||0%||None|
Additionally, the VA calls for any residuals of sarcoidosis of the lungs to be rated using the same criteria for chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis can be rated at 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100% disabling based on tests that determine how well you can breathe, and how well your lungs deliver oxygen to the body.
If your condition isn’t chronic, you can still file a claim for residual conditions of sarcoidosis. Acute sarcoidosis can cause other health issues that can be rated by the VA such as pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, and damage to the heart, liver, joints, and nervous system.
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TDIU for sarcoidosis
Sarcoidosis can have a negative impact on your breathing, and cause fatigue, joint pain, and overall discomfort that can contribute to your inability to work. Total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) is granted to veterans that are no longer able to work due to their service-connected conditions. If your symptoms of sarcoidosis or its residual effects have led to the inability to hold gainful employment, you can seek TDIU even if your condition is not rated 100% disabling.
TDIU pays you the same monthly compensation as a 100% rating, but requires a rating of at least 60% for one condition, or a combined rating of 70%, with one condition being rated at least 40%.
How our VA-accredited attorneys can help
Filing for VA disability with chronic sarcoidosis doesn’t have to be frustrating. Call the VA-accredited attorneys at Woods and Woods for help. Our team has helped thousands of veterans nationwide get the benefits they deserve. You only pay us if you win, and we never touch any future monthly benefits.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, eligible veterans diagnosed with chronic sarcoidosis who were exposed to burn pits can receive a presumptive service connection.
Sarcoidosis of the lungs, or pulmonary sarcoidosis, can be rated at 0%, 30%, 60%, or 100% disabling. Pulmonary sarcoidosis is the only form of the disease the VA has a specific diagnostic code for. You can also seek benefits for residual conditions of sarcoidosis.
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