COPD VA Rating

Veterans may receive a VA rating for service-connected chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, entitling them to benefits. The COPD VA rating depends on the severity of your symptoms, including your forced expiratory volume and forced vital capacity. Since COPD is a progressive disease, your symptoms can worsen over time. Veterans Guide has an overview of disability benefits for COPD, including its relation to burn pit exposure and how to establish a nexus link between your service and the development of COPD.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD,  is a potentially debilitating respiratory condition that can make daily life a struggle for veterans. If you had toxic particle exposure during your time in service, it might be the cause of your COPD. Establishing a link between your COPD and military service is a vital first step in gaining VA disability benefits.

What is COPD?

COPD is a progressive disease of the respiratory system. Progressive diseases typically worsen over time. COPD can make it hard to breathe as the condition restricts the amount of air moving in and out of your airways.

COPD refers to having one or both of the following conditions:

In the United States, most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Over time, COPD can be a significant cause of disability as you might be unable to do tasks associated with daily living.

Symptoms of COPD

COPD can cause several symptoms. In the early and middle stages of the disease, you might notice respiratory symptoms such as:

The phlegm-filled, continual cough is typically the first sign of COPD. As the disease reaches the severe stage, you might also experience:

Living with COPD might mean you have shortness of breath when you’re doing basic household chores or trying to move about in your life, such as climbing stairs.

How Does Military Service Cause COPD?

Service members and veterans might develop COPD after time in the military. The most common cause for service members is breathing in airborne toxins such as Agent Orange. A primary cause of COPD is breathing in pollutants in the air over a long period.

COPD Due to Burn Pit Exposure

Veterans exposed to burn pits while in service have a higher risk of developing COPD. In fact, according to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics, or PACT, Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs presumes your military service caused your COPD if you had burn pit exposure.

The VA also presumes you had burn pit exposure if you served in certain locations at specific times. Examples of presumption of burn pit exposures are people who served:

In addition to military service, there are other risk factors for developing COPD:

Therefore, veterans might have COPD from military service, such as burn pit exposure, but also live with a risk factor such as a genetic condition, asthma, or HIV.

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How To Establish a Service-Related Connection to COPD

To receive VA disability benefits for COPD, you must establish with medical evidence that your current condition causing your disability is the result of an event in your military service. If you served in any of the locations during the periods outlined in the PACT Act, the VA presumes you were exposed to burn pits, and that exposure caused your COPD

If the nexus between your military service and your COPD is not presumptive, you might still be able to obtain COPD VA disability benefits. You need medical evidence and service records proving you were at an event or in an environment during your service that caused your COPD.

The VA should have your service records, but you should confirm they have the details about the events and environment in question. A diagnosis from a medical professional documenting your COPD is also critical. This professional must provide a nexus letter that confirms your COPD was the direct result of your time in service.  

How Does the VA Rate COPD?

The VA has a disability rating system for respiratory illnesses. The more severe your respiratory illness, the higher your disability rating. If you smoke, you are likely to be denied the COPD disability rating. However, it is always a good idea to talk to an advocate like someone at Veterans Guide to make sure. 

To rate your COPD, the VA looks at your ability to exhale. It also looks at your maximum exercise capacity. Other factors, such as whether you need oxygen therapy or have periods of respiratory failure, also come into play. One measurement of exercise capacity is the 6-minute walk test for COPD.

VA Rating Schedule for COPD

The VA rates COPD disability under the respiratory system schedule at 38 CFR § 4.97. Among the criteria the VA looks at are:

The VA disability ratings that use these measurements are:

You can also get a disability rating based on other factors, including:

COPD as a Secondary Disability

You can also get COPD secondary to another condition. If you can show there is a connection between your secondary COPD and your military service, you might be able to get VA disability for these secondary conditions as well. Some conditions secondary to COPD include:

You must present medical evidence and documentation showing how the primary condition worsens or directly contributes to the development or aggravation of your COPD.

How To Obtain VA Disability Compensation for COPD

You can file for VA disability compensation for COPD in person at a VA office, by mail, or online. The general steps are as follows:

If you need assistance with this process, contact Veterans Guide. We’re here to help service members like you get the benefits you deserve. 

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