If your symptoms are severe enough, Social Security can find you disabled if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, a diagnosis on its own is not enough. In my practice, I find that COPD is disabling to my clients in two ways – either because their COPD symptoms are so severe that they are unable to work, or because their COPD symptoms combine with symptoms from other impairments to keep them from working.
I am surprised at how many of my clients have breathing difficulties. Their diagnoses range from asthma to emphysema. My experience with clients with breathing problems is that their symptoms generally do not improve with time. If you find you are unable to work due to COPD or any other breathing problem, it may be in your best interest to apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as soon as possible.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) examines COPD in its Listing of Impairments under listing 3.02 for chronic pulmonary insufficiency. The listings in section 3 cover many other types of respiratory impairments as well, including asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, persistent pulmonary infections, and cor pulomale due to chronic pulmonary vascular hypertension. If you have COPD or any other respiratory problem, Social Security will probably order a “pulmonary function test” to objectively determine the extent of the obstruction to your airways. If you are already being treated by a pulmonologist, you may have already had one or more pulmonary function tests performed. Social Security will request records from your doctor, which will include these test results as well as your doctor’s diagnoses and clinical impressions.
Another way to meet the requirements of the listings in section 3 is to show that you have frequent respiratory exacerbations that require physician intervention. If you have at least six attacks per year in spite of complying with prescribed treatment, you might meet or equal the requirements of listing 3.03.
Some of the more common respiratory symptoms my clients describe are shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain. Even though many of my clients do not have test results or frequent enough exacerbations to meet the listings described above, their symptoms seriously interfere with their ability to work. They are often unable to stand or walk for extended periods of time; sometimes their symptoms are so severe that they become short of breath if they talk on the phone or perform even sedentary activities. Some of my clients use inhalers, nebulizers, and even supplemental oxygen to help them breathe.
If you find you are unable to work due to COPD or any other disabling condition, you can start the process to receive SSDI or SSI by filing an initial application. If your application is denied, as most are, you must file a Request for Reconsideration within sixty days of your denial in order to keep your claim going forward. Most people must attend an administrative hearing to have a chance at receiving disability benefits. My office takes get pride in helping Indiana residents get the benefits they deserve. The Social Security disability process can be lengthy and confusing, but persistence and good treatment records can be the keys to a successful outcome.