Thousands of veterans find that they have difficulty breathing decades after they were discharged from service. While you were in the service, Agent Orange, burn pits, and other toxins may have damaged your lungs and might not show up until years later. If you have symptoms or a diagnosis of emphysema or COPD, and you think they are related to your time in the service, you may be eligible for VA disability benefits.
In this article about VA disability for emphysema:
- Symptoms of emphysema
- How emphysema is diagnosed
- Causes of emphysema
- Related conditions
- VA disability ratings for emphysema
- Service connecting your emphysema
- Filing a VA disability claim for your emphysema
- How a VA disability attorney can help you
Symptoms of emphysema
Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It occurs when the lining in the tiny air sacs (called alveoli) in the lungs are damaged beyond repair, causing the lungs to enlarge, which makes it difficult to breathe and limits the amount of oxygen that reaches the bloodstream.
The first symptom of emphysema is typically shortness of breath, but many people live for years without any symptoms. In some cases, patients don’t notice symptoms until 50 percent or more of their lung tissue has been destroyed.
Emphysema can greatly affect how you live your day-to-day life. Many people with emphysema feel at their worst in the morning hours because their sleep is disrupted by breathing issues. Simple tasks like getting dressed, doing housework, or shopping can be strenuous.
People often avoid activities without realizing how poorly they feel until they feel short of breath even when they are resting.
Other symptoms include:
- Long-term mucus production
- Ongoing fatigue
- Long-term cough or “smoker’s cough”
- Shortness of breath, especially climbing steps or during light exercise
- Persistent feeling of not being able to get enough air
How emphysema is diagnosed
A doctor who sees a patient experiencing symptoms of emphysema will likely order a chest X-ray and a CT scan. These tests can determine if the lungs are larger than usual or if the air sacs (called alveoli) are damaged.
A doctor might also order a pulmonary function test (PFT), which measures the amount of air in the lungs. To complete the test, a patient takes a deep breath and blows into a tube that is connected to a specialized machine.
The result is your FEV-1/FVC score (forced expiratory volume and forced vital capacity). Your score is compared to results of healthy people with similar characteristics such as gender, height and weight, age, and ethnic background.
Causes of emphysema
Some veterans may have developed emphysema as a result of their service. Gulf War and post-9/11 veterans who were exposed to burn pits and were later diagnosed with emphysema or certain other respiratory conditions are eligible for VA disability benefits. In these cases, those veterans who qualify under the PACT Act and have emphysema can receive a presumed service connection, meaning the VA does not need a medical nexus proving the condition is directly related to your service.
Other veterans who were exposed to air pollutants or chemical fumes during their time in active service may also be eligible. Exposure to Agent Orange can cause respiratory cancers, but it has not been linked to emphysema and other forms of COPD.
The number one cause of emphysema is smoking, which makes it one of the most preventable respiratory diseases.
Other causes include air pollution in the home and workplace, respiratory infections, and chemical fumes and dust. A rare cause of emphysema is alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (known as Alpha-1) which is a genetic condition that destroys lung tissue.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about service-connecting your Persian Gulf syndrome to the symptoms in your lungs.
Many people who suffer from emphysema also have chronic bronchitis, which is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes which causes a persistent cough. It is also a presumptive condition for veterans exposed to burn pits.
Pneumonia is also associated with emphysema.
Emphysema patients might also be diagnosed with pneumonia, collapsed lung, and heart problems.
Large holes in the lungs (bullae) can also be a threat if you have emphysema. These holes can be as large as half the lung. Giant bullae can reduce the amount of space available for the lung to expand as well as increase the risk of a collapsed lung.
VA disability ratings for emphysema
The VA diagnostic codes for emphysema, COPD, and chronic bronchitis all fall under the section in “Diseases of the Trachea and Bronchi” section.
Here are the disability ratings for emphysema and COPD VA disability ratings:
|FEV-1 Score||VA Disability Ratings|
|Less than 40%||100%|
You can also get VA disability benefits for pneumonia, but it is not mentioned specifically in the diagnostic code. Two pneumonia-like diseases that can receive a disability rating are pneumoconiosis and drug-induced pulmonary pneumonitis.
Service connecting your emphysema
Veterans seeking VA disability benefits for emphysema must be able to prove a service connection, which means proving a disability or condition occurred as a result of active service or was aggravated by active service.
The VA looks for these three things when you are trying to prove a service connection: medical evidence of a current disability, evidence of an in-service disease injury, or event, and medical evidence of a link between your current disability and what happened to you during your time in service.
This process can be difficult, so it is crucial that you consult an experienced doctor to write what the VA calls a medical nexus letter. Your nexus letter is key to having a successful disability claim. Woods and Woods can help you find a doctor to fit your needs and relieve some of the stress of the process.
The nexus letter is like the missing link to a successful VA disability compensation claim. In this video, one of our veteran’s disability lawyers explains the importance of the nexus letter.
Filing a VA disability claim for your emphysema
Veterans with an emphysema or COPD diagnosis related to their service are eligible for VA disability benefits.
To start a claim for your emphysema, you can either fill out the VA disability benefits form online, or you can send it by mail. Gather all of the needed evidence before you file. We have even created a step-by-step guide on how to apply for VA disability benefits if you need more help.
If you need assistance filing your initial application or need help appealing a denial, contact us for help. We will never charge you for help with the initial application, and you only pay us if we win your appeal.
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Can I get VA disability compensation for emphysema and COPD?
Veterans can only receive one disability rating for lungs. If a person is diagnosed with emphysema and COPD, it will not be given two ratings. Instead, the VA will rate the condition with the highest single rating.
How a VA disability attorney can help you
Having an experienced VA disability attorney on your side can ease the stress and confusion of the VA disability claims process. Woods and Woods has fought for thousands of veterans since 1985.
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.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
Yes, if you can prove a service connection, you can get rated for emphysema.
No. Veterans can only receive one disability rating for lungs. If a you are diagnosed with emphysema and COPD, the VA will rate yourcondition with the highest single rating.