According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 25 million Americans are living with asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease of the lungs that occurs when there's inflammation of the patient's airways. When these airways swell, narrow, and create extra mucus, the patient has difficulty breathing. Patients may suffer additional symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and chest pain.
Over the last few years, the U.S. military has seen an increase in asthma cases, which may indicate a connection between soldiers and their time spent on active duty. Researchers see this increase in those deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq—especially in female soldiers. However, veterans who suffer from asthma often have trouble getting a service connection from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and if they do get the connection, the VA often rates their condition inaccurately. If you're a female veteran suffering from asthma, it's especially important to understand how the VA will compensate you for that disability.
Female Service Members and Asthma
Patients with asthma don't all react to the same allergens or "triggers." Each person will likely have unique triggers that cause an asthma flare-up. For female service members and veterans, it's believed that exposure to burn pits and desert dust has contributed to the increase in cases. Asbestos exposure may also contribute. Although asbestos does not cause asthma, if it's mixed with dust and other environmental irritants, it can aggravate bronchial asthma and/or cause an asthma attack. Service members are at an increased risk for exposure to materials that contain asbestos.
It's estimated that more than 10,000 women veterans receive VA disability for asthma. The increasing rate of cases may be due to the number of women who served in the Gulf War and post-9/11 South West Asia theatre of operations. Their exposure to environmental toxins, smoke, carcinogens, and particulate matter likely contributed to their respiratory issues. In comparing men and women veterans, women more often suffer from service-connected asthma, while men are diagnosed more often with service-connected sleep apnea, hearing loss, and tinnitus.
Obtaining VA benefits for asthma can be difficult because proving the medical connection isn't always easy, and it's often hard to prove the severity of your symptoms and how they interfere with your ability to work. When the VA reviews your claim to determine if you should receive disability benefits for asthma, you need to meet the following criteria:
- You have a medical diagnosis for asthma. This diagnosis must be cited in your VA medical records, service treatment records, or private medical records.
- You can show an event that occurred while you were in service that caused your asthma or aggravated an already existing condition.
- You can prove a link between your condition and your time in service. Your doctor should provide this medical "nexus" with supporting documentation that your active duty likely caused your asthma and the way it affects your daily life.
How the VA Rates Asthma
When making an evaluation on your claim, the VA looks at how often your asthma attacks occur, if you use medication for your asthma, and if you need medical help to prevent a severe asthma attack. The VA also wants to understand your lung function and uses two metrics to evaluate your breathing ability:
- Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV-1), which measures how much air you can force from your lungs in one second
- Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), which measures the amount of air you can exhale after taking the deepest breath you can
Based on this information, the VA will assign a 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100% rating to your claim. To receive a 100% disability rating, you need to show the following:
- Your FEV-1 or combined FEV-1/FVC is less than 40% of those who don't have asthma
- You have more than one asthma attack a week
- You require daily corticosteroids or immunosuppressives
Contact Cuddigan Law
If you're a female veteran seeking VA disability benefits for asthma or other service-connected medical conditions that have left you unable to work, contact the legal team at Cuddigan Law. Our attorneys have been supporting veterans for years, and we will help document your symptoms with your treating medical providers to describe the full extent of your limitations. We know exactly how much these disability benefits mean to you. If we accept your case, we will take all steps within the law to help you get them. If your asthma is making it impossible for you to live a normal life or keep a job, contact Cuddigan Law to speak with an intake specialist for free.