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Lung Disease and Social Security Disability



Recent events and the immergence of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought wide-spread attention to chronic pulmonary diseases. Common pulmonary diagnoses include chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), interstitial lung disease (ILS), pulmonary fibrosis and asthma. These diseases cause obstruction of airflow in and out of the lungs and through the airways making breathing difficult. Breathing problems caused by pulmonary impairments may prevent the body from getting enough oxygen. Often, individuals who suffer from respiratory disorders experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of energy, chronic cough, mucus production and wheezing. Unfortunately, pulmonary diseases can be progressive and a person’s symptoms may worsen over time. Treatments for these conditions vary from medications, inhalers and in severe cases, oxygen dependence.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) evaluates disability claims for those who suffer from these conditions in two ways. An individual may meet the requirements for a listing. The listings for respiratory disorders require one of four different tests that measure oxygen levels and/or forced air volumes. A spirometry test documents a person’s forced expiratory volume (FEV). This test is used to evaluate the amount of air an individual can exhale in one second. A DCLO tests measures the amount of oxygen that passes to the blood. An ABG test measures the pressure of oxygen and carbon oxide in the blood. The fourth test measures oxygen saturation. The pulmonary listings detail the values of each test that are necessary to meet the disability standard by providing tables. Each table distinguishes the requirements of the listing based on the test result and a person’s gender, age and height. A person can also meet a listing if he or she has been hospitalized three or more times in one year. Each hospitalization must take place at least thirty days apart and be due to exacerbations of COPD.

Alternatively, if the requirements of the respiratory listings are not met, SSA will determine a person’s capacity to work by evaluating the extent and the severity of his or her symptoms. An inability to breathe properly or the development of shortness of breath on exertion may restrict a person’s ability to walk and/or lift heavy objects. Pulmonary disorders can also restrict a person’s ability to work around dusts, fumes, odors, gasses, and poor ventilation. A person’s age, functional capacity and the type of work he or she performed in the past is very important in determining disability in SSA cases. For example, if a person is limited to desk work only and is over the age of fifty (50), disability is warranted if he or she worked in an occupation that was more physically demanding and the person did not acquire skills transferable to desk type work. Conversely, if the person is under the age of fifty (50) and can perform sedentary work; SSA disability requirements may not be met.

In some instances, the combined limitations of several impairments can result in a person’s disability claim being approved, whereas the effects of one condition by itself would not have met the administration’s standards. Many people suffer from more than one medical condition. SSA takes all impairments that have some effect on an individual’s ability to work into consideration when determining whether or not he or she is disabled. Individuals who suffer from pulmonary conditions are at an increased risk of developing heart disease and commonly suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes and/or obesity. Commonly, individuals who are limited physically also suffer from or develop depression and/ or other mental health conditions. Difficulty breathing can keep a person from doing activities that he or she enjoys. Suffering from a chronic illness can also contribute to the development of depression and other mental health disorders. SSA will consider all physical and mental impairments when considering a disability claim. Therefore, an individual who suffers from multiple conditions should seek treatment with health professionals who specialize in each of his or her conditions. Comprehensive treatment for all health conditions improves the likelihood of an SSA disability approval because an individual’s symptoms and limitations that result from those conditions are more thoroughly documented.

In sum, pulmonary impairments can be quite disabling. SSA will determine disability for your respiratory disorder by evaluating your condition under the listing of impairments. Alternatively, SSA will evaluate your capacity to work both physically and mentally. The combined effects of multiple impairments can substantially erode your work capabilities. Lastly, SSA will evaluate your disability case based on your medical records. Therefore, being in the appropriate treatment and having your doctor perform the appropriate tests is not only important for your health; it is also paramount for your disability case.

Our attorneys are knowledgeable about SSA’s disability requirements and are experienced in helping our clients navigate the SSA disability process. If you are interested in applying for SSA disability benefits, please contact us for a consultation with one of our attorneys to evaluate and discuss your case.

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