Chronic bronchitis is a serious respiratory condition often associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to the lungs, become inflamed. This inflammation usually results in a cough that expels mucus, but other symptoms can include difficulty breathing and tightness of the chest. Chronic bronchitis may be diagnosed using lung function tests, x-rays, and blood tests.
Veterans exposed to airborne toxins in service, such as smoke from fires or particulate matter, face an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis. Respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis are experienced more often by veterans who have served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations during the Gulf War era.
Those who served during the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been exposed to airborne hazards released from burn pits, massive fire pits used by the U.S. military and its contractors to dispose of waste generated by military installments. Chronic respiratory conditions have been linked to exposure to particulate matter, however, not enough research exists on the long-term health effects of burn pit exposure to establish service connection on a presumptive basis.
Veterans may be eligible to receive VA disability compensation for chronic bronchitis if they can prove that their condition was caused by military service. When veterans experience a condition that is not presumptively related to their time spent in service, they must establish service connection. To establish direct service connection for chronic bronchitis, a veteran must have:
- A current diagnosis
- Evidence of an event, injury, or illness in-service that could have caused or led to the condition
- A medical nexus (link) between the event in service and the current disability
How VA Rates Chronic Bronchitis
The VA has a general respiratory rating system that is used to rate bronchitis and many other respiratory disorders. A rating is assigned based on how well the lungs take in air, absorb oxygen into the blood, and then exhale. Lung function tests, including spirometry, are used to evaluate a veteran’s level of disability.
Several different measurements will be evaluated when spirometry tests are performed. Each of these tests are gauged by the results of average people of your same height, weight, and age.
- Forced vital capacity (FVC) tests the maximum amount of air you can exhale after taking in a full breath.
- Forced expiratory volume (FEV-1) is tested to see the maximum amount of air you can exhale in one second.
- Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method: DLCO (SB) measures the lungs’ ability to transfer inhaled air to red blood cells. To render this metric, carbon monoxide levels are tested after a person exhales and is compared with how much they inhaled.
- Exercise testing reveals how much oxygen the blood uses while sustaining physical activity.
VA Rating Schedule for Chronic Bronchitis
VA rates chronic bronchitis under 38 C.F.R. 4.97, diagnostic code (DC) 6600. Veterans can be rated between 10% and 100% depending on the severity of their condition. According to 38 C.F.R. 4.97, DC 6600, a veteran must experience the following levels of pulmonary dysfunction to qualify for a chronic bronchitis disability rating:
10% ratings are assigned to veterans who demonstrate:
- FEV-1 of 71% to 80% predicted; or
- The ratio of FEV-1 to FVC of 71% to 80%; or
- DLCO (SB) of 66% to 80% predicted
30% disability ratings are assigned to veterans who demonstrate:
- FEV-1 of 56% to 70% predicted; or
- FEV-1/FVC of 56% to 70%; or
- DLCO (SB) of 56% to 65% predicted
60% VA ratings are assigned to veterans who have:
- FEV-1 of 40% to 55% predicted; or
- FEV-1/FVC of 40% to 55%; or
- DLCO (SB) of 40% to 55% predicted; or
- Maximum oxygen consumption of 15 to 20 ml/kg/min (with cardiorespiratory limit)
100% ratings are assigned to veterans who have:
- FEV-1 less than 40% of predicted value; or
- FEV-1/FVC of less than 40%; or
- DLCO (SB) less than 40% predicted; or
- Maximum exercise capacity less than 15ml/kg/min oxygen consumption (with cardiorespiratory limit); or
- Right heart failure; or
- Right ventricular hypertrophy; or
- Pulmonary hypertension shown by Echo or cardiac catheterization; or
- Episode(s) of acute respiratory failure; or
- Requires outpatient oxygen therapy