Smoking in the military–at one time–was actively encouraged, and the VA even offered disability benefits for nicotine dependence. That is no longer the case, and the rate of smoking among active-duty service members has significantly decreased.
However, the rate of smoking among veterans remains much higher, which leads veterans to ask if they can get a VA disability rating for smoking. Compensation may be available to veterans whose smoking habit in service resulted in other illnesses.
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In this article about VA disability for smoking
- Smoking in the military
- Can smoking be claimed as a VA disability?
- Tobacco and secondary service connections
- VA disability rating for lung cancer
- VA disability rating for COPD
- VA disability rating for diabetes
- VA disability rating for heart disease
- Woods and Woods can help you file a claim
Smoking in the military
Up until 1975, deployed military service members had access to free cigarettes. The military included them with meals and dropped them with supplies to deployed troops from helicopters. This practice continued for years despite the U.S. surgeon general’s 1964 report that linked smoking with dangerous health effects. Smoking remained common in the military, with the rate of smokers staying consistently above the rate of civilian smokers until overall cigarette use began to decline in 2011.
How prevalent is smoking in the military?
A 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report examined data related to veterans and their tobacco use from 2010-2015. It revealed that about 30% of veterans reported current use of tobacco. Of those, 22% were cigarette smokers.
The Department of Defense’s 2015 Health-Related Behaviors Survey found 14% of active-duty personnel reported smoking. The rate has been decreasing from 24% in 2011 and is lower than the civilian rate that same year, which was 15%.
Can smoking be claimed as a VA disability?
Following legislation enacted in 2002, disability claims initially filed after June 9, 1989, can not be granted a direct service connection for a disability caused by a smoking habit developed during service. Before the law went into effect, nicotine dependence was considered a disease that would be compensated.
Tobacco and secondary service connections
People may turn to cigarettes to cope with symptoms of other illnesses, especially mental disorders, against doctors’ recommendations. Despite the initial relief smoking may provide, quitting smoking improves overall health.
Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health from 2005-2013 showed that the rate of smoking in adults with chronic illnesses has declined over time, but it remains the highest among those with anxiety and depression.
Veterans who began smoking to deal with symptoms of a service-connected illness, like PTSD, and then developed an illness because of their smoking habit may be eligible for disability benefits.
VA disability rating for lung cancer
Cigarette smoke can damage and alter cells’ DNA. When that DNA changes, the cell can grow out of control, resulting in cancerous tumors. Cigarette smoke weakens the immune system, making it less likely the body will stop the cancerous tumors from developing.
Smoking can cause many different types of cancers including blood, colon, kidney, and of course, lung cancers. If you have cancer, smoking can also increase your risk of death. Nine out of ten lung cancer deaths result from cigarette smoke, the most deadly type of cancer.
Lung cancer is rated at 100% under diagnostic code 6819 in the Schedule for Rating Disabilities. Six months after treatment concludes, the veteran will be reevaluated and given a new rating based on any remaining symptoms or complications after the cancer is gone.
VA disability rating for COPD
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the term for diseases that cause breathing-related issues. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are two types of COPD. Smokers make up 8 out of 10 COPD-related deaths.
The severity of COPD is determined by a forced expiratory volume (FEV) test. It measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs in one second. Here are the VA disability ratings for COPD which are outlined in diagnostic code 6604:
|FEV results||VA rating|
VA disability rating for diabetes
Smoking can cause Type 2 diabetes and also contribute to diabetic complications including heart disease, kidney diseases, and retinopathy.
The rating a veteran receives for diabetes depends on the severity and management of the condition. The ratings for diabetes are 10%, 20%, 40%, 60%, and 100% and the severity ranges from diabetes managed with diet to diabetes requiring daily insulin injections and three or more hospitalizations each year. The diagnostic code number for diabetes is 7913.
In this video, one of our certified VA disability lawyers talk about how to get a permanent and total rating for your lung condition:
VA disability rating for heart disease
Smokers make up 25% of deaths from cardiovascular diseases. It raises your triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood, and lowers your good cholesterol. Smoking makes your blood thick, sticky, and more likely to clot, blocking blood from getting to your heart and brain. It can also damage your blood vessels and cause fat and cholesterol to build up inside them.
The following table lists some of the different types of heart diseases caused by smoking. If your doctor believes that your heart disease was caused by a smoking habit that you developed to cope with the symptoms of a service-connected illness, you should contact a VA disability attorney to discuss filing a claim for benefits.
|Diagnosis (Diagnostic code)||Description|
|Arteriosclerotic heart disease (7005)||Also called coronary artery disease. Occurs when fatty deposits collect inside your coronary arteries. It can result in chest pain and can lead to a heart attack.|
|Myocardial infarction (7006)||Another name for a heart attack. Occurs when blood flow is blocked from the heart.|
|Supraventricular arrhythmias (7010)||Fast or erratic heartbeats. Can result in other symptoms like chest pain, weakness, and fainting.|
|Atrioventricular block (7015)||Happens when the electrical signal that tells your heart to beat consistently is blocked. If you know someone with a pacemaker, they might have this condition.|
|Aortic aneurysm (7110)||Occurs when the large artery in the heart, the aorta, bulges out. This can lead to the aorta splitting or rupturing.|
What is the military doing about smoking?
When the military first began distributing cigarettes, smoking was thought to help service members with their stress and strengthen relationships and camaraderie. However, as it became clear that smoking has severe adverse health impacts, the military eventually encouraged and supported service members and veterans to quit smoking.
Once dependent on nicotine, it is difficult to stop smoking and may take several tries. However, there are multiple strategies and therapies to help veterans quit smoking, such as nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine gums. If you would like to quit smoking, consider discussing your situation with one of the VA’s free options for support.
SmokefreeVET is a partnership between the VA and the National Cancer Institute. This program includes online resources, a text messaging program, and a Facebook community. The VA also offers medication and counseling and a hotline at 1-855-QUIT-VET.
Woods and Woods can help you file a claim
If you began smoking to cope with symptoms of a service-connected illness and now have another disease due to tobacco use, you might be eligible for VA disability benefits.
Whether you have already filed for your initial service-connected illness and need to file for your smoking-related condition or if you’ve never filed before, a certified VA disability lawyer can help. At Woods and Woods, we never charge veterans for help filing the initial application.
An accomplished VA disability benefits lawyer from the Woods and Woods team will help you avoid delays from improperly completed paperwork. In addition, we work hard to stay on top of disability benefit changes and innovative case strategies. Our experienced team includes accomplished lawyers and a research support team of legal analysts and case managers.
Contact our team, and let us help you get started.
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
While there are no longer VA disability benefits for smoking or nicotine dependence, compensation may be available if a smoking habit that began during military service results in other illnesses.
If you would like to quit smoking, consider discussing your situation with one of the VA’s free options for support. SmokefreeVET is a partnership between the VA and the National Cancer Institute. This program includes online resources, a text messaging program, and a Facebook community. The VA also offers medication and counseling and a hotline at 1-855-QUIT-VET.