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

By Shaniqua Williams

Posted on February 24th, 2020

If you served in the US military and have shortness of breath, a nagging cough, and chest tightness, you might have a service-connected lung disability. Veterans who have developed respiratory conditions after exposure to asbestos during active military service may qualify for a variety of benefits available to them through the VA.

The VA awards disability compensation for each respiratory condition that is service-connected. Disability ratings are measured on a schedule. They don't fill the full range from 0 to 100%.

When evaluating service-connected disabilities, the VA has a "Schedule of Ratings" that classifies various levels of symptoms into percentages of disability. Each rating is represented by a percentage rating in ten percent increments (ex: 10%, 20%, 30%, 40%, etc.). These disabilities are racked and stacked, then the VA does "the math" to determine the overall disability rate.

For instance, chronic bronchitis is rated based on your FEV-1 - the volume of air that can be forced out in one second after taking a deep breath, and available ratings are 10, 30, 60, or 100%. If your FEV-1 value is 56%, you get a 30% disability rating, but, if it is 55%, you are bumped up to a 60% rating, not 31%.

Although the VA disability rating system can be complex and hard to understand, every question you have can be thoroughly explained by one of our attorneys. It's exceedingly important you understand how your rating is determined so you can make sure your benefits are calculated properly.

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

Nowadays, it is a widely known fact that asbestos is a 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. 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 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

TestResult/ConditionsRating
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%

2020 VA disability compensation pay chart based on the disability rating

You will be assigned a 20% disability rating if you suffer from pleural effusion, pleural plaques, pulmonary fibrosis, diffuse pleural thickening, lung scarring, or asbestosis which does not cause you a lot of distress in your everyday life. Asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs in order to qualify for disability compensation from the VA. The payment for a 20% disability rating is $281.27 per month.

You will be assigned a 30% disability rating if you struggle with asbestosis, pleural plaques, lung scarring, pleural effusion, diffuse pleural thickening, or pulmonary fibrosis which is causing you some distress in your daily life. To qualify for disability compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must have been found in your lungs. The monthly payment for a 30% disability rating is $435.69.

You will be assigned a 40% disability rating if you suffer from asbestosis, lung scarring, diffuse pleural thickening, pleural plaques, pleural effusion, or pulmonary fibrosis which is causing you significant distress in your everyday life. To become eligible for disability compensation from the VA, asbestos fiber must be present in your lungs. The payment for a 40% disability rating is $627.61 per month.

You will be assigned a 50% disability rating if you struggle with asbestosis, diffuse pleural thickening, pleural plaques, pulmonary fibrosis, or pleural effusion which is causing you extreme distress in your daily life. To qualify for disability compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must have been found in your lungs. The monthly payment for a 50% disability rating is $893.43.

You will be assigned a 60% disability rating if you suffer from stage 1 lung cancer, mesothelioma, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer, or bronchial cancer. To qualify for compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs. The payment for a 60% disability rating is $1,131.68 per month.

You will be assigned a 70% disability rating if you struggle with stage 2 lung cancer, mesothelioma, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer, or bronchial cancer. To become eligible for disability compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must have been found in your lungs. The monthly payment for a 70% disability rating is $1,426.17.

You will be assigned an 80% disability rating if you struggle with stage 3 lung cancer, mesothelioma, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer, or bronchial cancer. To qualify for compensation from the VA, you must have asbestos fibers in your lungs. The payment for an 80% disability rating is $1,657.80 per month.

You will be assigned a 90% disability rating if you struggle with terminal lung cancer, mesothelioma, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer, or bronchial cancer. To become eligible for compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs. The monthly payment for a 90% disability rating is $1,862.96.

You will be assigned a 100% disability rating if you struggle with terminal lung cancer, mesothelioma, esophageal cancer, throat cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, colorectal cancer, or bronchial cancer which is causing you extreme pain and suffering in your daily life. To qualify for compensation from the VA, asbestos fibers must be present in your lungs. The payment for a 100% disability rating is $3,106.04 per month.?

How the VA is calculating your combined disability rating

When there is only one rated disability with service-connection, the veteran's combined rating is simply the rating that is assigned to their service-connected condition. Things are getting complicated when there are more than one VA disability ratings.

Each post-service disability is assigned its own rating based on the severity of symptoms. When assigning a single disability rating for co-existing respiratory conditions, the VA determine which disability is predominant, and then evaluate the overall severity of the multiple conditions under the diagnostic criteria for the predominant disability. The fact that the non-predominant condition may cause symptoms that are not listed in the diagnostic criteria for the predominant illness does not automatically warrant a higher disability rating.

The VA uses a combined rating table to calculate your disability percentage. For instance, consider a veteran with a 30% VA rating for COPD. According to the VA's math, this veteran is 30% disabled and 70% non-disabled. Now, let's say the veteran has a 30% rating and another 20% rating for bronchial asthma.

The VA is required to consider how the 20% rating affects the non-disabled part of the veteran (20% x 70%).

20% of times 70% gives us 14%; add 14% to 30% to get 44% then round the 44% down to 40% for the final combined rating.

Consequently, the VA looks at how each disability affects the non-disabled part of the veteran. A veteran that does not have a rated disability or a disability rated at 0%, would be considered 100% non-disabled. In terms of VA math, the veteran in our example would be 40% disabled and 60% non-disabled.

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 have an honorable discharge from the military, and also 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, P.C. today. Your initial consultation is free and confidential.