COPD, also known as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is an obstructive lung disease associated with chronically poor airflow and other breathing problems such as wheezing, frequent respiratory infections, chronic cough, or shortness of breath during physical activity. The condition typically worsens over time.
Cigarette smoking is the top cause of COPD, but Veterans can also suffer from this condition after prolonged exposure to welding fumes. If your COPD diagnosis is related to your military service, you may qualify for VA disability benefits providing monthly cash compensation and access to necessary medical care.
How Welding Can Lead to COPD
Welding is associated with a variety of toxic substance emissions, including heavy metals, carbon monoxide, oxide, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide. The gas produced by the welding process can also contain fluorine and hydrogen fluorine.
In the military, the majority of welding-related occupations are found in the Navy. Aeronautical welders, pipefitters, flight support, NSW/NSO divers, shipyard welders, and machinist’s mates are just a few of the occupations that are recognized as having a high risk of COPD due to prolonged exposure to welding fumes.
If you are seeking VA disability benefits for COPD related to welding fumes, you will need to obtain a nexus statement from a doctor. This statement helps to link your welding fume exposure to your COPD diagnosis. Without establishing a service connection, you are not eligible for compensation.
How COPD Is Rated
COPD is rated under 38 C.F.R. 4.97, diagnostic code 6604. You can receive a rating of 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100%. Your rating will depend on the results of the following lung function tests:
- Forced Expiratory Volume in 1 Second (FEV-1). This is the maximum amount of air you can breathe out in 1 second as compared to a normal person of your size and age.
- Ratio of FEV-1 to Forced Vital Capacity (FCV). This is the total amount of air you can exhale after taking a full breath in comparison to a normal person of your size and age.
- Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB)). This is the ability of your lungs to transfer gas from inhaled air to your red blood cells.
- Exercise testing. This testing measures the maximum amount of physical activity you can repeat and sustain.
It is important to remember that a Veteran can only be rated for one respiratory condition. If you have COPD and another respiratory condition such as asthma, you will only receive one rating. However, adding any other non-respiratory service-connected conditions, such as PTSD, diabetes, or hearing loss, can help increase your total monthly compensation. Working with an experienced Veterans benefits attorney is the best way to ensure that all of your service-connected disabilities are fully compensated.
Receiving TIDU Benefits
In some cases, a Veteran with COPD may be unable to work due to their impairment. If you have a 60% or higher rating with COPD as your sole disability, you may qualify for Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU). If you have two or more disabilities, you must have a combined rating of 70% or higher and one disability rated 40% or higher to qualify for TDIU benefits.
TIDU benefits provide compensation at the 100% disability rate when a Veteran is unable to maintain substantially gainful employment because of their condition. Substantially gainful employment is defined as employment paying more than a poverty-level wage in a nonprotected work environment. Your VA disability attorney can help you determine if you qualify for TIDU due to COPD.
Do You Need Help With Your Application for VA Disability Benefits?
If you are struggling with respiratory symptoms associated with COPD, you don’t need the added stress of trying to navigate the VA disability process on your own. If you believe you’ve been wrongfully denied the benefits you’ve earned in service of your country, the office of Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, is here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.