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VA disability ratings for respiratory illnesses caused by asbestos during active service

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on February 24th, 2020

Veterans who have developed respiratory asbestos-related conditions after exposure to asbestos during active military service may qualify for a variety of benefits available to them through the Department of Veterans Affairs if they can prove that their condition is service-connected.

Nowadays, it is a widely known fact that asbestos is an highly toxic material, which when inhaled or ingested, can cause irreparable harm to one's health.

The armed forces used asbestos extensively from 1935 to 1975 particularly in shipbuilding and military construction due to its heat resistant properties and non-flammable nature. The hazardous mineral was present in ships, tanks, barracks, aircraft, and multiple other infrastructure projects. Several military vehicles had asbestos in their hood liners, gaskets, brakes, and clutches. Army bases had buildings filled with asbestos, such as cement mixtures, plumbing systems, sprayed coating, ceiling and floor cavities.

Long-time inhalation of asbestos fibers - an important contributor to the burden of respiratory disease

When a person inhales asbestos, some of the airborne fibers can become lodged within the tiny sacs inside the lungs (alveoli) where oxygen is exchanged for carbon dioxide in the blood. The asbestos fibers can cause irritation, inflammation and scarring, which cause symptoms that primarily affect the lungs. The first sign that something is wrong with our respiratory system may be a chronic coughing, excess mucus, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and wheezing. Over time, the severity and frequency of symptoms can trigger even more significant respiratory disease.

There are two asbestos-related diseases groups:

How are these conditions diagnosed?

If you are having trouble breathing, your doctor may perform respiratory function tests to find out how well your lungs are working. The following are required to confirm an asbestos-related respiratory condition:

  • Detailed occupational and medical history
  • Comprehensive physical exam
  • Lung function testing
  • Exercise tests
  • Spirometry tests
  • Diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide
  • Laryngoscopy
  • Bronchoscopy
  • Chest X-rays
  • Chest computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Lung biopsy

Because the lungs provide oxygen to the bloodstream, if you have a severe lung condition it can also affect the heart, so various heart tests are included as part of the pulmonary function tests.

How does the VA rate respiratory conditions?

The VA ratings for the respiratory system are based on three main criteria:

  • how well the lungs take in air
  • how well the lungs absorb oxygen into the blood
  • how the lungs exhale leftover gasses

When the VA rates these conditions, the agency gives one rating for each respiratory condition, and uses the rating that best reflects the patient's overall condition. When evaluating a respiratory disorder, the VA most often uses pulmonary function tests as a basis for its rating criteria, such as Forced Vital Capacity (FVC), Forced Expiratory Volume measured over 1 second (FEV-1), the ratio of FEV-1 to Forced Vital Capacity (FCV), the Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB)), and exercise testing.

A brief look at some pulmonary test results and their VA ratings

FEV-1 Less than 40% 100%
FEV-1 40-55% 60%
FEV-1 56-70% 30%
FEV-1 71-80% 10%
FEV-1/FVC Less than 40% 100%
FEV-1/FVC 40-55% 60%
FEV-1/FVC 56-70% 30%
FEV-1/FVC 71-80% 10%
DLCO (SB) Less than 40% 100%
DLCO (SB) 40-55% 60%
DLCO (SB) 56-65% 30%
DLCO (SB) 66-80% 10%
Exercise Test Less than 15 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory condition 100%
Exercise Test 15-20 ml/kg/min with the limitation caused by a respiratory condition 60%
Other one or more episodes of respiratory failure 100%
Other Requires oxygen treatments at home 100%

Cancer is rated 100% during treatment and will continue to be rating at 100% for six months after treatment ends. The VA will then schedule a reexamination and any leftover symptoms or complications are rated separately. If your cancer returns and you are retreated, you will again be returned to a 100% rating.

We serve our veterans, families, and survivors with the utmost respect to ensure they receive the benefits to which they are entitled

When dealing with a disabling illness it can be difficult to know where to begin filing a VA Disability claim or even what type of claim to file. Furthermore, the process of obtaining VA disability for respiratory illnesses isn't always easy.

If you were exposed to asbestos while serving our country, we can help you get all the VA benefits you deserve.

To be eligible for disability compensation for a respiratory problem caused by service on the basis of direct service connection, you must show that you have:

  • A current diagnosis of a respiratory illness
  • Evidence of military asbestos exposure
  • Functional tests showing a restrictive or obstructive pattern with reduced diffusing capacity
  • Characteristic radiographic appearance

For effective representation that gets results, please contact Environmental Litigation Group today. Your initial consultation is free and confidential.