Chronic Bronchitis VA Rating

If your chronic bronchitis was caused or worsened by your military service, you could be eligible for disability compensation through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA. When you apply for benefits, the VA will give you a disability rating, determining the benefits you’re entitled to. Veterans Guide is here to help you understand what to expect from your chronic bronchitis VA rating before you apply.

Chronic bronchitis can take a significant toll on your well-being and make it difficult to enjoy your life to the fullest. If your time in the military caused or worsened your chronic bronchitis, you may be entitled to monthly, tax-free disability compensation payments through the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

It’s important to understand how the VA will evaluate your disability claim before you apply. The disability rating you receive can affect how much money you can get in monthly compensation, and it pays to know what goes into the VA’s decision. The legal professionals at Veterans Guide can guide you through how the VA determines your chronic bronchitis VA rating so you can make the strongest case possible for disability compensation.

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by persistent irritation or inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which are the airways that carry air to and from the lungs. This chronic inflammation results in the thickening and narrowing of these air passages. 

There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis is a temporary and self-limiting condition often caused by viral infections, while chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease linked to long-term exposure to harmful substances. The VA considers patients with chronic bronchitis for disability compensation claims due to the ongoing nature of its symptoms.

Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed when an individual experiences recurrent and long-lasting bronchitis symptoms for an extended period. The symptoms must occur on most days for at least three months in a year for two consecutive years to be classified as “chronic.”

Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis

The main symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:

Chronic bronchitis can sometimes be confused with other major respiratory conditions, such as asthma, emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, or tuberculosis. However, continued mucus production is a key diagnostic feature of chronic bronchitis that helps differentiate it from other respiratory diseases.

Chronic bronchitis might take years to fully develop. Symptoms often appear gradually and may worsen over time.

How Does Military Service Cause Chronic Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis most commonly results from prolonged exposure to airborne irritants, such as:

Military personnel often experience disproportionate exposure levels to these irritants compared to the general population. Veterans may be around a wide range of environmental toxins during their service, including dust, particulate matter, chemical fumes, and smoke, depending on their specific duties and deployment locations.

Chronic Bronchitis Due to Burn Pits Exposure

One of the most significant service-related causes of chronic bronchitis is exposure to burn pits. Burn pits are open-air waste disposal sites commonly used in deployed military locations to burn various materials, including trash, chemicals, and hazardous waste. The smoke and fumes generated from burn pits contain a mixture of harmful substances, and prolonged exposure can significantly increase a veteran’s risk of developing chronic respiratory illnesses, including chronic bronchitis. 

Many other conditions, both respiratory and non-respiratory, can result from a veteran’s burn pit exposure. Similar to the VA’s presumptive conditions list for Agent Orange exposure, the VA has a list of presumptive conditions for exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards, which includes the following:

Congress added many of the conditions on the VA’s list of presumptive conditions for burn pit exposure recently with the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT  Act. This act expanded eligibility for VA health care.

How To Establish a Service-Related Connection to Chronic Bronchitis

Your health condition must have been caused or worsened by your time in the service to be eligible for VA disability benefits. The VA’s list of presumptive conditions for exposure to burn pits and other airborne hazards includes chronic bronchitis. This listing means the VA automatically presumes a service connection for chronic bronchitis in veterans who meet specific eligibility criteria

In other words, if you served in areas with documented burn pit exposure or other airborne hazards and subsequently developed chronic bronchitis, you can more easily access VA disability benefits and health care for your condition. 

You must provide strong evidence that you have a chronic bronchitis diagnosis and served on active duty in a location exposing you to airborne environmental hazards. Examples of such service locations include burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq and pollutants from a waste incinerator near the Naval Air Facility in Atsugi, Japan.

How Does the VA Rate Chronic Bronchitis?

The VA rates chronic bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses using a rating system outlined in its Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This rating system looks at the lungs’ ability to take in air, move oxygen into the bloodstream, and exhale that air. 

You may undergo pulmonary function tests, including spirometry, to assess your lung function. The key measurements from a spirometry test include Forced Vital Capacity, or FVC, and Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 Second, or FEV-1. FVC is the maximum volume of air a person can exhale forcefully and completely after taking a deep breath. It measures the total lung capacity and can help diagnose restrictive or obstructive lung conditions. FEV-1 measures the volume of air a person can exhale in the first second of a forced exhalation. 

The VA also examines the Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method, or DLCO, which measures your lungs’ ability to transfer inhaled air to red blood cells.

The VA may use the results of these tests to determine how much chronic bronchitis impairs you and impacts your daily activities. Other factors that the VA may look at include the severity of your symptoms and the frequency and severity of exacerbations that result in hospitalizations. Furthermore, if you require frequent medical interventions or medications to manage your chronic bronchitis, your rating will likely be higher.

VA Rating Schedule for Chronic Bronchitis

The VA rates chronic bronchitis under 38 CFR § 4.97. The VA rates respiratory conditions, including chronic bronchitis, on a scale from 0 to 100 percent. The more your disability impacts your life, the higher your rating will be. Higher ratings provide more significant financial compensation and access to health care services. 

The chronic bronchitis disability ratings are 10, 30, 60, and 100 percent. These ratings are based on your FVC and FEV-1 levels and your DLCO results. 

The VA reserves 100 percent ratings for veterans with the most severe presentations of chronic bronchitis, such as those with an FEV-1 of less than 40 percent of the predicted value or episodes of acute respiratory failure.

Total Disability Individual Unemployability Benefits and Chronic Bronchitis

The VA offers a program called Total Disability Individual Unemployability, or TDIU, to veterans who are unable to maintain substantially gainful employment due to service-connected disabilities such as chronic bronchitis. TDIU compensation is equal to the 100 percent disability rate. This compensation ensures veterans who cannot work because of their disabilities receive financial support and health care benefits.

You may be eligible for TDIU if you have at least one service-connected disability rated at 60 percent or more or multiple service-connected disabilities rated at least 70 percent combined, with one rated at 40 percent or more. You must also be unable to hold down a steady job that meets your financial needs because of your disability. The filing process for TDIU is the same as that for disability compensation, and the VA will assess whether your case meets the TDIU criteria.

Chronic Bronchitis as a Secondary Disability

The VA may consider chronic bronchitis as a secondary disability if it is directly related to or aggravated by another service-connected condition. Some common service-connected conditions that can be paired with chronic bronchitis as a secondary disability include:

It’s crucial to establish the connection between the primary service-connected condition and the secondary condition, such as chronic bronchitis, when seeking disability benefits.  You must present medical evidence and documentation showing how the primary condition worsens or directly contributes to the development or aggravation of your chronic bronchitis.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for Chronic Bronchitis

If you’re interested in pursuing disability compensation for your chronic bronchitis diagnosis, your first course of action is to submit an intent to file a claim with the VA. After this, you’ll need to collect evidence supporting your diagnosis and its connection to your time in service. 

The next step is to submit the claim with your medical evidence and any other forms necessary for your specific situation. The VA will review your claim and inform you if you need to undergo a compensation and pension, or C&P, exam. Usually, this exam is only necessary if there’s insufficient evidence to determine your disability rating.

Once the VA has all the necessary information to make a decision, you’ll receive a response either accepting or denying your claim. This can take four months or more. 

You can begin the application process on your own online. However, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact Veterans Guide for assistance.

three people sitting on a couch with health items
Need Help?