Nearly 1.25 million veterans had COPD in 2020. If you or someone you know is a veteran diagnosed with COPD, you may wonder if it can be a VA service-connected disability.
The answer is yes. This article will cover what COPD is, the basics of service connection for COPD, and how VA rates it.
What Is COPD?
COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and describes multiple conditions that cause breathing problems in the patient. It “obstructs” the flow of air through the patient’s lungs. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two most common conditions that fall under COPD.
Unfortunately, COPD symptoms may not show up until much damage has been done to the lungs.
- Productive, chronic cough
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- Respiratory infections
- Unintended weight loss
- Swelling in feet, ankles, or legs
There are multiple COPD stages, given that it is a progressive disease. Symptoms that require emergency attention:
- Inability to breathe
- Blue lips or fingernail beds
- Rapid heartbeat
- Foggy feeling or trouble concentrating
What Causes COPD?
- Exposure to Particulate Matter. Occupational exposure to certain chemicals or dust can damage the lungs. For veterans, this exposure takes place near burn pits. In the past, it could have been caused by exposure to asbestos.
- Air Pollution. Breathing certain gases can damage the lungs and lead to COPD.
- Smoking. COPD and other lung conditions can be related to smoking cigarettes.
Not all smokers develop COPD, so there is a genetic predisposition to the condition and even genetic disorders that can cause it.
It is possible to treat COPD, though it cannot be cured. Treatment for COPD includes
- Stop smoking
- Steroid or combination inhalants
- Oral steroids
- Lung therapy
- Treatment for depression or other complications
COPD is a progressive condition and can lead to severe complications. Those complications include:
- Respiratory infections
- Heart problems
- Lung cancer
- High blood pressure
Service Connection for COPD
Three conditions must be present for a veteran to receive service connection for this condition: A COPD diagnosis, an in-service event, and a link between the two.
The first step to getting service-connected for COPD is being officially diagnosed by either a VA or private physician. The VA has four tests it uses to determine whether a veteran has COPD:
The FEV-1 test measures how much air a person exhales in one second. The result is measured against a healthy person of similar size and age to the patient.
FCV is the same as FEV-1, but the test is performed after a person has taken a full breath in.
A DLCO test measures a person’s ability to transfer air to their blood vessels. It measures the amount of carbon monoxide present when a person exhales compared to what they inhaled.
Exercise testing measures the amount of oxygen a person’s blood requires to sustain maximum physical activity.
The first step in connecting a diagnosis to service is identifying an event in service. The event could be a one-time occurrence such as an injury, or a sustained activity such as repeated exposure to burn pits.
Burn pits were often used in Iraq and Afghanistan beginning in 2001. Bases used them to burn trash and other materials that resulted in the particulate matter being released into the air as part of the toxic smoke. Burning was often an ongoing process, so service members living on the bases were exposed to the smoke for an extended period of time.
Usually, the VA requires some evidence of a link between the condition and the in-service event. In other words, no event between service and the diagnosis can have intervened and caused the condition.
However, COPD is on a list of “presumed” illnesses from post-9/11 service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other countries.
Veterans from countries that utilized burn pits are presumed to have been exposed to the smoke, and exposure to the smoke has been scientifically linked to many conditions, including COPD. Therefore, under this presumption, veterans with a COPD diagnosis and proven service in Iraq or Afghanistan post-9/11 are entitled to service connection for COPD.
VA Disability Rating for COPD
Getting a grant of service connection from the VA is not the end of the story. The VA still needs to issue a rating for the condition. The VA rates conditions from 0% to 100% depending on the severity of the symptoms and how the veteran’s everyday life, including the ability to hold employment, is impacted.
The rating is often based in part on an examination performed by a VA physician or nurse on a form called a Disability Benefits Questionnaire, or DBQ. If the initial rating is lower than the veteran expects or deserves, they can appeal for a higher rating through one of several available avenues. An experienced veterans disability attorney navigates the appeal process at no extra cost to the veteran.
Connect With Experienced Veterans Disability Attorneys
Attorneys are valuable partners in disability appeals. If you want to know more about pursuing service connection for COPD or any other condition, schedule a free consultation with attorneys from the Cameron Firm, P.C., by calling (800) 861-7262 or filling out the contact box on our website.
This article is for educational and marketing purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship.