Category: Veterans Disability Law
A variety of respiratory conditions affect military veterans on a daily basis. Some of these problems are minuscule but others can be debilitating. If you’re diagnosed with asthma while in the military or after discharge as a result of your service, you may be entitled to VA disability compensation for asthma.
What Is Asthma?
Asthma is a respiratory condition that makes it difficult for you to breathe. Asthma can involve mild attacks that make certain activities harder than usual, or it can involve life-threatening issues with the respiratory system that could lead to serious, lasting damage. While advances in asthma treatments have lowered the severity of asthma in certain patients and reduced the number of resulting deaths, there are still plenty of veterans suffering from asthma and asthma symptoms as a result of their military service.
VA Disability Asthma Symptoms in Veterans
Asthma symptoms will be different for each veteran, but the most common effects include the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Wheezing and coughing
- Pain or tightness in the chest
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Some individuals will experience these symptoms intermittently, having asthma attacks only after exercise or other triggers; other individuals can have symptoms at all times, regardless of their actions or environment.
With varying levels of severity, asthma is also capable of getting worse over time. Some of the signs that your asthma is worsening and may be eligible for VA disability benefits include the following:
- The need for an inhaler becoming more frequent
- Asthma symptoms happening more often and becoming more of an annoyance
- Breathing becoming more difficult—this can be measured with a peak flow meter
Taking notice of your asthma condition can help you stop it from getting worse.
Along with taking care of your disability, avoiding further triggers and causes of asthma is also an essential part of maintaining your respiratory health. Asthma can be caused or worsened by a variety of factors, including:
- Respiratory infections
- Environmental irritants
- Physical activity
- Gastrointestinal conditions
- Food and drink preservatives
- Secondary conditions
Recently, there has been an increase in asthma cases associated with veterans who served overseas. This could be tied dry desert environments and/or to the military burn pits used to dispose of garbage.
Prevalence of Asthma in Veterans
According to the CDC, there are roughly 25 million Americans with asthma. Out of the 330 million people in the United States, about 7.5% of them deal with asthma in some capacity. One recent study found that veterans who were deployed are 24-30% more likely to develop asthma and asthma symptoms than their undeployed peers.
Deployed veterans are at an unusually high risk of developing respiratory issues like asthma because of their exposure to asbestos-containing materials, desert dust, and toxins from garbage burning. Each of these environments has excessive particulate matter—particles that can cause blockages throughout the respiratory system—in the air. This particulate matter can trigger asthma attacks and also cause long-term asthmatic symptoms to develop.
Can You Get VA Disability for Asthma?
This increased frequency of exposure to potentially harmful toxins in the military results in more respiratory conditions in veterans. Because these conditions seem to be connected to military service, VA does reward VA disability benefits for asthma. The amount of compensation a veteran receives will be based on an asthma VA rating. This rating will change depending on the severity, frequency, and duration of your symptoms.
How Does the VA Rate Asthma?
Depending on its severity, frequency, and duration, asthma can be rated at 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100%. Asthma is a bronchial disorder rated under CFR 38 Part 4, VA Schedule of Ratings, Diagnostic Code 6602, Asthma, Bronchial. The two main factors which determine your rating are forced expiratory volume (FEV-1) and forced vital capacity (FVC).
FEV-1 represents the amount of air you can forcefully exhale in a single second. VA measures this number as a percentage of what a normal person could breathe out. FVC represents the max amount of air a person can inhale or exhale in total from the lungs.
VA uses an FEV-1/FVC ratio to compare the proportion of an individual’s vital capacity that they can expel in one second of a forceful exhalation.
The criteria for assigning an asthma VA rating is as follows:
- 10% — For this rating, a veteran must show a predicted FEV-1 of 71-80%; an FEV-1/FVC ratio of 71-80%; or a need for intermittent inhalational or oral bronchodilator therapy
- 30% — For this rating, a veteran must show a predicted FEV-1 of 56-70%; an FEV-1/FVC ratio of 56-70%; a need for daily inhalational or oral bronchodilator therapy; or a need for inhalational anti-inflammatory medication
- 60% — For this rating, a veteran must show a predicted FEV-1 of 40-55%; an FEV-1/FVC ratio of 40-55%; physician visits at least once a month for required care of symptom exacerbations; or intermittent (at least three per year) courses of systemic (oral or parenteral) corticosteroids
- 100% — For this rating, a veteran must show a predicted FEV-1 of less than 40%; an FEV-1/FVC ratio less than 40%; more than one asthma attack per week with episodes of respiratory failure; or daily use of systemic (oral or parenteral) high dose corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications
Proving Service Connection for Your Asthma Military Disability
Proving service connection is an essential step in receiving VA disability benefits for asthma. Along with a current medical diagnosis for asthma or asthma symptoms, you will also need proof of a potential service-related cause and an opinion that supports the link between the two. Medical records, service records, statements from family and friends, etc. can all increase your chances of receiving a favorable asthma VA rating.
VA Asthma Compensation & Pension Exam
When you file a VA disability claim, VA will schedule a compensation & pension (C&P) examination with an approved medical professional. At the asthma C&P exam, you will be physically assessed and questioned about your history with the condition. At this point, you may present evidence of your symptoms and statements from those around you pertaining to your physical health. You will also be required to fill out an asthma disability benefits questionnaire (DBQ). An asthma DBQ takes stock of how severe your symptoms are and how long they have been affecting you.
Between the C&P exam and the DBQ, the practitioner will send an opinion to VA and they will assign you an asthma VA rating for your disability.
VA Secondary Conditions to Asthma
A VA secondary condition is one that arises as a result of an initial service-connected condition. Secondary conditions can be claimed separately for their own ratings. When added together, the combined disability rating will usually provide the veteran with more compensation. Some of the common secondary conditions to asthma include the following:
- Asthma-COPD overlap syndrome
- GERD (heartburn or acid reflux)
- Nasal polyps
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vocal cord dysfunction
Each of these secondary conditions can create difficulties in a veteran’s life and therefore may be eligible for disability benefits.
VA Disability Asthma and Sleep Apnea
Service connection on a secondary basis is not given automatically. To earn a service connection for a secondary condition you will need a medical diagnosis of the new condition and proof that it was caused or worsened by the initial condition.
One of the most common secondary conditions to asthma is sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes the individual to wake up during the night due to difficulty breathing. To earn a service connection for sleep apnea on a secondary basis to asthma you will need a medical nexus letter. This is an independent medical opinion that supports the relationship between your asthma and sleep apnea. These two conditions are also known to continuously make each other worse over time when left untreated.
Can Agent Orange Cause Asthma?
While cases may have increased due to burn pits and other particulate matter during the Persian Gulf War, asthma for veterans is not a new problem. During the Vietnam War veterans experienced a multitude of respiratory conditions as a result of the chemical weapon Agent Orange. While asthma might start with intermittent episodes, it usually gets worth with age and other health issues. Some veterans who had mild asthma from Vietnam are now experiencing increased suffering as a result of their initial condition.
If you served in Vietnam and are experiencing asthma or asthma-like symptoms, it may be beneficial to consult your doctor. If you have a respiratory condition that could be linked to your time in military service, reach out to a lawyer to see if you have a potential case for asthma VA disability benefits.
Reach Out to Tuley Law Office
Getting started can be one of the most difficult parts of filing a VA disability claim for asthma. If you’re not sure whether or not you might have a service-connected disability, call an experienced VA disability lawyer and get their opinion. Our attorneys have the knowledge to guide you through the process and to help you navigate vague VA regulations.
The other difficult part of filing a claim is knowing what to do if your claim is denied. VA disability claims for asthma can get denied if your symptoms do not specifically match the asthma rating criteria. However, you may still be suffering on a daily basis as a result of your asthma or asthma-related conditions. Reach out to one of our disability lawyers for help filing a claim appeal.
We understand the process of fighting to get an unfavorable decision changed or reversed, and we know how hard it can be to go through that process when you’re already struggling with your condition. Call us at (812) 625-2053, or fill out our online contact form for a no-obligation case evaluation.
Have questions about your case?