IS COPD A DISABILITY?

COPD disability benefits are available if you cannot work due to your severe  COPD symptoms. In order to receive SSD and SSI benefits, your COPD symptoms must be so severe that you cannot work for more than 12 months. This article discusses COPD, when it becomes disabling, and how to apply and win COPD disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

THE TWO TYPES OF COPD DISABILITY BENEFITS

There are two types of COPD disability benefits. The first is Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. SSDI benefits are for those who have a full-time work history for five out of the last 10 years. The amount of your SSDI benefit depends on the amount of your previous salary.

In addition to SSDI benefits, you may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI benefits are a supplement. Therefore, they are for people with very limited resources and low income. In 2022, the maximum monthly SSI benefit is $821 per individual.

COPD disability

DISABILITY BENEFITS ARE FOR THOSE WHO CANNOT WORK

If you have COPD and you are “working,” then you are not eligible for SSD or SSI benefits. The SSA defines work using the term “substantial gainful activity.” This term describes a specific level of work activity and earnings.

Work is “substantial” if it involves doing significant physical or mental activities or a combination of both. For work activity to be substantial, it does not need to be performed on a full-time basis. For example, part-time work may also be SGA or “work.”

Many people think they can do part-time work and still receive disability benefits. This is not true. If you can do part-time work, the SSA will often believe this is evidence that you can do full-time work. Likewise, many people do not realize that even part-time work can make them ineligible to receive an SSI benefit and an SSD benefit.

HOW DOES THE SSA DEFINE WORK?

The SSA generally uses earnings guidelines to evaluate whether your work activity is SGA. The amount of monthly earnings the SSA considers to be SGA depends on the nature of your disability. For example, the Social Security Act specifies a higher SGA amount for persons who meet the definition of blindness. For more information about SSA rules on working and blindness, refer to SSA’s guide Working While Disabled: How We Can Help (Publication No. 05-10095).

As a general rule, you can usually can make no more than $1,350 ($2,260 if you are blind) a month in 2022 or the SSA will consider you to be working. However, the SSA does deduct the work expenses that you have due to your disability when they look at your earnings.

If you have extra work expenses, your earnings could be substantially higher than $1,350 in 2022 before they affect your COPD disability benefits. Additionally, the substantial gainful earnings amount usually increases each year. For example, the amount of monthly earnings for the SGA cut-off in 2021 was $1310 for non-blind workers.

WHAT IS COPD?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a group of progressive lung diseases. However, it is different than asthma. If you need to know more about asthma, then read here to learn about asthma disability benefits. The most common COPD diseases are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Emphysema destroys air sacs in your lungs and this interferes with outward air flow. Chronic Bronchitis, however, causes inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which allows mucus to build up in the lungs. Many people with COPD have both of these conditions.

Your lungs are a complex machine. For example, your windpipe connects to your lungs, where it divides into multiple smaller branches. These branches end in small air sacs called alveoli. The alveoli have tiny blood vessels known as capillaries running along their walls. This is where oxygen passes from the sacs into the capillaries and carbon dioxide passes from the capillaries into the sacs. Breathing involves this exchange of gases. It also brings oxygen to your body.

If you have healthy lungs, then the airways and air sacs are stretchy. Therefore, this elasticity permits the sacs to inflate when a person breathes in and deflate when they breathe out. If you have COPD disability, however, you lose this elasticity.

EMPHYSEMA, CHRONIC BRONCHITIS, AND COPD DISABILITY

For example, in emphysema, the lungs airways and sacs lose their elasticity. In turn, this leads to alveolar destruction. As a result of this damage, the sacs lose their shape and ability to recoil when you exhale. Therefore, air gets trapped in your lungs. Trapped air continues to distend the alveoli, causing a cycle of airway obstruction when you try to breathe.

These changes eventually result in the lungs becoming hyperinflated, which reduces the exchange of gases. This makes it difficult for people to breathe and oxygenate their blood effectively while impairing the ability to breathe out carbon dioxide from the blood.

If you have chronic bronchitis, then the airway walls in your lungs become inflamed. As a result, the inflammation produces mucus. Excess mucus in the lungs reduces your ability to breathe. The main difference between emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is that chronic bronchitis produces a frequent cough with mucus. By contrast, the main symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath.

CAUSES OF COPD

The most common cause of COPD is smoking. If you quit smoking, then your lung symptoms may improve. The problem with smoking is that it causes your COPD condition to progress. Emphysema, for example, is irreversible. People with severe emphysema may need a lung reduction surgery. This surgery removes the diseased area of the lung in order to allow the healthier part of the lung to work better.

Over time, COPD symptoms can become so disabling that you become too short of breath to perform normal activities, such as cleaning the house and working a full-time job. COPD symptoms include coughing, phlegm, and also difficulty breathing deeply. Additionally, untreated COPD can lead to the progression of other diseases, like heart problems and respiratory infections.

COPD DISABILITY SYMPTOMS

It’s estimated that about 30 million people in the United States have COPD. However, half of those people may not know that they have COPD. Some people simply don’t recognize their COPD symptoms until later stages of the disease.

For example, people may think they are short of breath  because they are  getting older. Or, because they are overweight. However, being short of breath could also be a symptom of severe lung disease.

If you experience any of the following symptoms, then talk to your doctor about whether or not you have COPD and need disability benefits.

If you have these symptoms, then contact your doctor. Early treatment of COPD can help you with your breathing symptoms. In addition, the symptoms of COPD can impact a person’s daily activities and lead to other complications. These complications can include:

Make sure to explain any limitations you experience from COPD to your doctor. If you do not have a physician for COPD, we have a list of free and low cost doctors in Utah. Similarly, we have a free and low cost list of Nevada doctors on our website.

DIAGNOSING COPD DISABILITY

In order to diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, your doctor will first evaluate your symptoms. After that, your doctor will ask for your complete health history. Finally, your doctor will conduct a health examination and possibly perform certain tests.

Next, in order to determine COPD disability, your doctor will usually ask you questions about your health history. For example, she may want to know if you:

TESTS TO DIAGNOSE COPD

SPIROMETRY

In order to determine if you have COPD disability, your doctor will probably perform a spirometry test. A spirometry test shows the doctor how well your lungs function. The test requires you to blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a machine. The machine then measures the amount of air you blow out and also, how fast you can blow the air. Spirometry results will show if you have a COPD disability.

CHEST X-RAY

Your doctor may also have you undergo a chest X-ray. The chest X-ray will show any damage to your lungs. In order to take a chest X-ray, you will stand still in front of an X-ray machine. Then, the technician will ask you to hold your breath, so the X-ray machine can take an image of your lungs.

ARTERIAL BLOOD GAS TEST

Another test that your doctor can perform is an arterial blood gas test. This test, for example, requires your doctor to draw blood from an artery. Then, they test the blood for your oxygen and carbon dioxide levels.

WHAT IS SLEEP APNEA?

Although sleep apnea is not the same as COPD, people who have breathing problems may suffer from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea occurs when breathing stops repeatedly while you are asleep. In a regular six to eight hour period of sleep, someone with sleep apnea will stop breathing for up to a minute. This is due to air passages becoming blocked, usually from the collapse of the tissue in the back of the throat.

After a while, breathing will start again, often with a loud noise, known as snoring. While the brain tries to get air flowing again, the body is deprived of oxygen and the person may wake up or have interrupted sleep.

Because the poor quality of sleep, if you have sleep apnea, you may still feel tired after a night’s sleep. In addition, you might fall asleep during at work as a result of not getting sufficient rest at night. If you have obesity, then you are also more likely to have sleep apnea. Find out more about obesity and disability here.

THE THREE TYPES OF SLEEP APNEA

If you have a COPD disability, you may also have sleep apnea. There are three major types of sleep apnea:

Additionally, two of the most common symptoms of sleep apnea are snoring and not feeling rested after a night of sleep. As with COPD, other common symptoms are shortness of breath, insomnia, and headaches. Sleep apnea is a serious respiratory problem. Seek medical treatment if you have it. Additionally, these impairments can cause depression. If you need more information about depression, go here.

SSA’S LISTING FOR COPD DISABILITY BENEFITS

The SSA uses listing 3.02 to determine if you are eligible for COPD disability benefits. Below you will find tables that outline COPD disability:

3.02 Chronic respiratory disorders due to any cause except CF (for CF, see 3.04) with A, B, C, or D:

A. FEV1 (see 3.00E) less than or equal to the value in Table I-A or I-B for your age, gender, and height without shoes (see 3.00E3a).

Table I: FEV1 Criteria for 3.02A

 

Height
without
shoes
(centimeters)
< means
less than
Height
without
shoes
(inches)
< means
less than
Table I-A
Table I-B
Age 18
to attainment of age 20
Age 20
or older
Females
FEV1
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Males
FEV1
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Females
FEV1
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Males
FEV1
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
<153.0
<60.25
1.20
1.45
1.05
1.20
153.0 to <159.0
60.25 to <62.50
1.30
1.55
1.15
1.35
159.0 to <164.0
62.50 to <64.50
1.40
1.65
1.25
1.40
164.0 to <169.0
64.50 to <66.50
1.45
1.75
1.35
1.50
169.0 to <174.0
66.50 to <68.50
1.55
1.85
1.45
1.60
174.0 to <180.0
68.50 to <70.75
1.65
2.00
1.55
1.75
180.0 to <185.0
70.75 to <72.75
1.75
2.10
1.65
1.85
185.0 or more
72.75 or more
1.80
2.15
1.70
1.90

OR PART B

B. FVC (see 3.00E) less than or equal to the value in Table II-A or II-B for your age, gender, and height without shoes (see 3.00E3a).

Table II: FVC Criteria for 3.02B

 

Height
without
shoes
(centimeters)
< means
less than
Height
without
shoes
(inches)
< means
less than
Table II-A
Table II-B
Age 18
to attainment of age 20
Age 20
or older
Females
FVC
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Males
FVC
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Females
FVC
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
Males
FVC
less than or equal to
(L, BTPS)
<153.0
<60.25
1.35
1.65
1.30
1.50
153.0 to <159.0
60.25 to <62.50
1.50
1.80
1.40
1.65
159.0 to <164.0
62.50 to <64.50
1.60
1.90
1.50
1.75
164.0 to <169.0
64.50 to <66.50
1.70
2.05
1.60
1.90
169.0 to <174.0
66.50 to <68.50
1.80
2.20
1.70
2.00
174.0 to <180.0
68.50 to <70.75
1.90
2.35
1.85
2.20
180.0 to <185.0
70.75 to <72.75
2.05
2.50
1.95
2.30
185.0 or more
72.75 or more
2.10
2.60
2.00
2.40

OR PART C

C. Chronic impairment of gas exchange demonstrated by 1, 2, or 3:

  1. Average of two unadjusted, single-breath DLCO measurements (see 3.00F) less than or equal to the value in Table III for your gender and height without shoes (see 3.00F3a); or

Table III: DLCO Criteria for 3.02C1

Height without shoes
(centimeters)
< means
less than
Height without shoes
(inches)
< means
less than
Females
DLCO
Less than or equal to (mL CO (STPD)/min/mmHg)
Males
DLCO
Less than or equal to (mL CO (STPD)/min/mmHg)
<153.0
<60.25
8.0
9.0
153.0 to <159.0
60.25 to <62.50
8.5
9.5
159.0 to <164.0
62.50 to <64.50
9.0
10.0
164.0 to <169.0
64.50 to <66.50
9.5
10.5
169.0 to <174.0
66.50 to <68.50
10.0
11.0
174.0 to <180.0
68.50 to <70.75
10.5
11.5
180.0 to <185.0
70.75 to <72.75
11.0
12.0
185.0 or more
72.75 or more
11.5
12.5

 

  1. Arterial PaO2 and PaCO2 measured concurrently by an ABG test, while at rest or during steady state exercise, breathing room air (see 3.00G3b), less than or equal to the applicable values in Table IV-A, IV-B, or IV-C; or

Table IV-A – ABG Criteria for 3.02C2

Table IV-A
(Applicable at test sites less than 3,000 feet above sea level)
Arterial PaCO2 (mm Hg) and
Arterial PaO2 less than or equal to (mm Hg)
30 or below
65
31
64
32
63
33
62
34
61
35
60
36
59
37
58
38
57
39
56
40 or above
55

Table IV-B – ABG Criteria for 3.02C2

Table IV-B
(Applicable at test sites from 3,000 through 6,000 feet above sea level)
Arterial PaCO2 (mm Hg) and
Arterial PaO2 less than or equal to (mm Hg)
30 or below
60
31
59
32
58
33
57
34
56
35
55
36
54
37
53
38
52
39
51
40 or above
50

 Table IV-C – ABG Criteria for 3.02C2

Table IV-C
(Applicable at test sites over 6,000 feet above sea level)
Arterial PaCO2 (mm Hg) and
Arterial PaO2 less than or equal to (mm Hg)
30 or below
55
31
54
32
53
33
52
34
51
35
50
36
49
37
48
38
47
39
46
40 or above
45
  1. SpO2 measured by pulse oximetry (see 3.00H2) either at rest, during a 6MWT, or after a 6MWT, less than or equal to the value in Table V.

Table V: SpO2 Criteria for 3.02C3

Test site altitude (feet above sea level)
SpO2 less than or equal to
Less than 3,000
87 percent
3,000 through 6,000
85 percent
Over 6,000
83 percent

OR PART D

D. Exacerbations or complications requiring three hospitalizations within a 12-month period and at least 30 days apart (the 12-month period must occur within the period we are considering in connection with your application or continuing disability review). Each hospitalization must last at least 48 hours, including hours in a hospital emergency department immediately before the hospitalization.

OUR LAW FIRM CAN HELP YOU WIN YOUR COPD DISABILITY CASE

As you can see, proving COPD disability is not easy to do with SSA’s listings. If you cannot work due to COPD, then Cannon Disability Law can help you apply for SSD and SSI benefits. We can also help you appeal an SSA denial. Additionally, we will represent you in court at your disability hearing. We will also help you be a good witness in your case.

At your hearing, the ALJ may invite a medical expert to testify about your COPD. The medical expert testifies as to whether your COPD meets or equals the listings. If that is the case, then you need an attorney to cross-examine the medical expert. Find out more about the medical expert at your hearing here.

Furthermore, we can appeal your case to the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council is an appeal board that reviews cases throughout the entire country. If you already lost your case at the hearing, then you have 60 days to appeal to the Appeals Council. Find out more about your Appeals Council options here.

Likewise, we file appeals in Federal Court. Also, we can represent you no matter where where you live. For example, we can represent you if need a disability attorney in Utah or Nevada. Additionally, we can help you if you live in Idaho, Colorado, or California.

Moreover, your ability to receive Medicaid and Medicare depends upon whether or not you are successful with your disability claim. You are going to need health insurance to care for your COPD disability. Find out more information about Medicare benefits here.

THE VOCATIONAL EXPERT AT YOUR COPD DISABILITY HEARING

If your COPD disability does not meet or equal the above listing, then your residual functional capacity becomes important at the disability hearing. Find out more about your residual functional capacity here. If you appear at a disability hearing before a judge, a vocational expert may give testimony at your hearing.

Vocational experts are at your hearing to testify about the kinds of jobs you can perform. Also, they testify about the number of jobs that are available to someone with your impairments. If you want to learn more here about the role of vocational experts at the hearing, then read here.

At the hearing, the ALJ presents a hypothetical to the VE. Then, the VE testifies if you can work with the physical or mental issues found by the ALJ. Likewise, your attorney presents a hypothetical question to the VE. That question is also based upon your testimony and your medical impairments.

At Cannon Disability, we have the experience you need to cross-examine the vocational expert. While your testimony and medical records are crucial to proving your COPD disability, you may want to ensure you have an attorney on your side. It is helpful, because the burden to prove disability is on you. Therefore, you may need an attorney to cross-examine the vocational expert. Find out more about proving disability here.

CANNON DISABILITY CAN HELP YOU WIN COPD DISABILITY BENEFITS

In order to fight the SSA’s denials, you need a representative with experience. For example, Dianna Cannon has been representing people with disabilities for over thirty years. Likewise, Brett Bunkall and Andria Summers have many years of litigation experience. Together, we have won over 20,000 disability hearings.

When you have COPD disability, it is hard to trust your future to a lawyer. We understand. That is why we include information about our attorneys on our website. Find out more about the representatives at Cannon Disability on About Us page.

At Cannon Disability Law, we can help you apply for benefits. In our office, we have specialists who will help you complete your application. Usually, we help you file your application online on Social Security’s website. If you receive a denial, then we can help you appeal it.

Likewise, if your case is set for a hearing, then we represent you at your hearing before an ALJ. One of the things we do is help you be a good witness at your hearing. We meet with your before the hearing. At the meeting, we talk about how to answer questions. We also let you know what kind of questions you will be asked. Learn more about a disability hearing here.

WE CAN HELP YOU WITH YOUR COPD DISABILITY CASE NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE 

If you cannot work due to your COPD, then your disability case will dictate the money you have for the future. You need to hire a law firm that cares about your future benefits. Cannon Disability Law cares. And, we are one of the best disability firms in the country.

Likewise, we are one of the best Social Security Disability firms in Las Vegas, Nevada. The representatives at Cannon Disability Law are also members of the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives. Nevada Disability Information can also be found on this website.

Additionally, we are one of the best Social Security Disability firms in Utah. Learn more here about Utah SSD benefits. If you are from California, our website has California disability information. However, we can represent you in your COPD disability case no matter where you live.

There are many law firms that claim they practice Social Security disability law. However, most of those firms do other types of cases. For example, some firms practice personal injury or Worker’s Compensation law. We don’t do that. Our firm only takes Social Security disability cases. We believe it is important to focus on your COPD disability case, because that is our specialty.

Finally, we will use our skills to help you through the disability process. Obviously, it is our goal to win your COPD disability case. But, it also our goal to make applying for disability benefits easier for you. As a result, we offer a free consultation.

If you call, then there is no obligation to become a client. You can simply ask us questions. We will answer. Even if we don’t accept representation in your case, we will still try to help you and answer your questions about your COPD disability case.

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