America’s veterans have always accepted great risks in service of their country. However, risk isn’t always easy to ascertain—it need not always carry a rifle, nor fly the flag of an insurgent organization. In many of our country’s more modern conflicts, members of the military instead faced unprecedented danger in the form of toxic chemical compounds and billowing clouds of smoke.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was deprived of the discretion to care for servicepeople diagnosed with illnesses caused by unregulated burn pits and other sources of toxic chemical exposures. But in 2022, Congress passed the PACT Act, a piece of bipartisan legislation that added dozens of new presumptive conditions and significantly expanded care options. For example, bronchial asthma is categorized under the PACT Act, and an illness potentially eligible for disability benefits.
Sean Kendall, attorney at law, has spent more than 30 years fighting for the rights of veterans. If you or a loved one was diagnosed with bronchial asthma after serving in the armed forces, our experienced team of legal professionals could help you explore your best options for a fair recovery. Read on to learn more about bronchial asthma benefits and the PACT Act, or contact us today to schedule your initial, no-obligation consultation.
Understanding the PACT Act
The Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, or PACT Act, is likely the most significant benefits expansion in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ history. It introduced critical changes to existing policy, including, but not limited to:
- The expansion of health care benefits for veterans with toxic exposures, as well as veterans of the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and other post-9/11 conflicts.
- The addition of more than 20 presumptive conditions, including bronchial asthma and several types of cancer.
- The creation of an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry.
For many former servicepeople, the biggest benefit of the PACT Act was its recategorization of certain illnesses as presumptive conditions. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are now eligible for benefits that would have once required a verified diagnosis and a clear-cut service connection.
Ordinarily, the VA requires any eligible person seeking benefits to demonstrate that a disability is service-connected. In other words, the VA will only award compensation for injuries most likely caused by military service. Proving a military service injury typically requires extensive evidence—which isn’t always easy to find and can sometimes take months to obtain.
However, if an illness is considered a “presumptive condition,” then the VA automatically assumes that it has a service connection. In many cases, applicants only need to establish that they were diagnosed with a disability, and meet certain other requirements, to receive benefits. Bronchial asthma is one of several dozen respiratory disorders categorized as presumptive under the PACT Act.
What is Bronchial Asthma?
Bronchial asthma, or asthma, is a common lung disease affecting more than 25 million adults across the United States. Asthma is typically categorized as either intermittent asthma or persistent asthma. Intermittent asthma doesn’t always present symptoms and may only be noticeable once triggered.
Common asthma triggers include:
- Air pollution
- Dust mites
- Pet hair
Many people with intermittent asthma live ordinary lives—some may not even realize they have a potentially life-threatening illness. In contrast, persistent asthma is characterized by regular and recurring symptoms, which vary immensely in their severity.
In either case, asthma is almost always considered a chronic illness—it can be treated, but not cured. Many individuals who have asthma have to be proactive in managing their condition. This often requires the use of medical devices, as well as significant lifestyle changes.
Diagnosing Bronchial Asthma in Veterans
Although most people are diagnosed with asthma as children, veterans exposed to toxic chemicals may need testing later in life to validate their condition and rule out other diagnoses. To diagnose asthma, health care practitioners use the following procedures.
Spirometry is a type of pulmonary function test. It measures the flow of air through the lungs. During a typical spirometry test, a doctor places clips on the patient’s nose and asks them to take a deep breath before blowing into a tube. This tube is connected to a spirometer, which measures the air being inhaled and exhaled. By taking different readings, doctors determine how strong your lungs are and how well you breathe.
Peak Expiratory Flow (PEF) Test
In this procedure, you may be asked to blow forcefully into the mouthpiece of a device. It helps identify an individual’s “ideal” respiratory flow and can diagnose unusual breathing patterns indicative of asthma.
Doctors don’t usually use chest X-rays to diagnose asthma, but imaging may be used to rule out other conditions. This is because some other illnesses—including lung blockages—mimic asthma symptoms.
FEV and FVC Tests
Servicemen and women who seek treatment for asthma at a VA facility may need to take a forced expiratory volume (FEV-1) test or a forced vital capacity (FVC) test. These two procedures are similar to spirometry and PEF tests in that they compare your lung strength with standardized measurements. Taking an FEV-1 test or FVC test is often essential to receiving a VA disability rating.
Disability Ratings for Bronchial Asthma
The VA considers bronchial asthma a potentially debilitating and disabling condition. If an applicant has received either an FEV-1 test or an FVC test at a VA facility, they could be assigned any of the following disability ratings:
- 100 percent disability for an FEV-1 or FVC result of less than 40 percent.
- 60 percent disability for an FEV-1 or FVC result of between 40 percent and 55 percent.
- 30 percent disability for an FEV-1 or FVC result of between 56 percent and 70 percent.
- 10 percent disability for an FEV-1 or FVC result of between 71 percent and 80 percent.
If a veteran hasn’t received an FEV-1 test or an FVC test, then they could still receive a disability rating if they have been diagnosed with bronchial asthma by a non-VA provider. In such cases, the VA may request other evidence to make a determination. This could include prescription histories or hospital records.
Filing a Bronchial Asthma Disability Claim Under the PACT Act
Although the PACT Act categorizes bronchial asthma as a presumptive condition, approval isn’t always automatic. Even with the proper evidence, bronchial asthma claims are sometimes denied for seemingly arbitrary reasons.
Sean Kendall, Attorney at Law, can help you assert your rights to disability benefits by:
- Filing the right paperwork for an initial benefits application.
- Submitting a supplemental claim for bronchial asthma benefits that were denied before the PACT Act passed or took effect.
- Collecting testimonials from family, friends, and former colleagues who have how your struggle with asthma affects your everyday life.
- Reviewing your medical history and connecting you with health care providers for additional asthma testing.
- Appealing your case if it’s denied or if you’re assigned a low disability rating.