Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Social Security Disability Benefits

Does a breathing disorder keep you from working a full time job? It is possible to receive Social Security Disability benefits for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other breathing disorders. With a well-documented medical history that shows how your COPD affects your ability to work, a good claim can be made for Social Security Disability benefits.
COPD is an obstructive lung disease that is characterized by very poor airflow. Many people who suffer from COPD have emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Currently there is no cure for COPD, and unfortunately studies show that it usually worsens over time. Most treatments for COPD aim to stop the progression of the disease, not to cure it. It is important that individuals with COPD do not contract any other lung or airway condition, as these can be very detrimental to your health. The most common symptoms of COPD include sputum (mucus) production, coughing, and shortness of breath.
COPD can be caused by:

  • Smoking
  • Air Pollution
  • Occupational Exposures
    • Dust
    • Chemicals
    • Fumes
  • Genetics

To diagnose your COPD, your doctor will most likely look at your past medical history, record your symptoms, and conduct some lung function tests. The Social Security Administration appreciates a thorough medical history with well documented diagnoses. As part of the application process, Social Security may send you for a pulmonary function test to measure the effect of your COPD on your breathing capacity.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is classified in the Listing of Impairments under section 3.00 – Respiratory System. COPD falls under section 3.02 – Chronic Pulmonary Insufficiency. In this section there are a few tests that look at lung force and volume. The results will depend on your height, but if your pulmonary function testing falls within certain ranges, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability benefits.
Even if your test results do not fall within Listing levels, you may still meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disabled based on the functional limitations caused by your COPD. Some of my clients have had to use portable oxygen tanks that hindered their ability to preform many types of work. Many of my clients also complain of severe fatigue when preforming the most simple of tasks. Fatigue can be a factor in the ability to work an eight hour day.
In summary, the Social Security Administration looks at an individual’s ability to work to determine whether he or she is disabled. If your condition meets the requirements of a listing, or if your COPD combines with other physical or mental impairments to limit your ability to work, you may be eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits.

The application and appeals process can be very frustrating and difficult to understand. It may be in your best interest to contact an individual with experience with the Social Security Administration to learn more about your options.

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