When you have a medical or mental health condition, there may come a point in time where you are no longer able to work. For most people, this creates enormous financial strain. However, depending on your situation, you may qualify for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA).
There are two primary types of Social Security disability benefits available: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and cannot work as a result, then you may qualify for SSDI and/or SSI. A seasoned disability attorney can help you file an application for benefits.
The law firm of Bross & Frankel helps people with disabilities get the compensation that they are entitled to under the law. With decades of combined experience – including at the SSA itself – we have the legal knowledge and practical skills necessary to help you achieve the best possible outcome for your claim. Reach out today to schedule a free claim review.
Can You Work with COPD?
If you have been diagnosed with COPD, then your symptoms may have progressed to the point that you are unable to work. In the early stages of this lung disease, you may have a few symptoms such as shortness of breath, lack of energy, or swelling in the lower extremities. When your COPD symptoms are mild, you may still be able to work full-time or part-time.
Over time, as the lungs become more damaged, it may quickly become difficult or even impossible to work due to symptoms and complications like:
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lung cancer
- Chronic cough
- Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in lung arteries)
- Heart problems
- More pronounced shortness of breath
- Poor quality of life
When a person has a more severe or advanced form of COPD, they may require oxygen therapy, surgery, and/or other treatments. They may also experience acute exacerbations or periods of time when symptoms worsen for days or weeks. Without prompt treatment for an acute exacerbation, a COPD patient may experience lung failure.
If you are at the point where your COPD symptoms are so bad that you are having trouble working, then you may qualify for disability benefits. An experienced Social Security disability lawyer can help you with the process.
Getting Social Security Disability for COPD
An individual may qualify for disability if they are considered disabled according to the SSA’s definition. In general terms, a person may be “disabled” for SSDI/SSI purposes if they cannot work for 12 months or longer due to a medical condition or mental health condition, or if their condition is expected to be terminal.
To determine if a person is disabled, the SSA uses a specific process known as the five-step sequential process to determine if a person is disabled. During this evaluation, the SSA will evaluate the following factors:
- If you are working, then you cannot earn more than a set amount, known as substantial gainful activity (SGA). For 2022, SGA is $1,350 for people who are not blind.
- Your impairment or combination of impairments must significantly limit your ability to perform basic work and is either expected to last for a year or longer or to result in death.
- Your impairment must either meet or exceed all of the requirements on the SSA’s listing of impairments (blue book), or it must have other factors that equal a listed impairment.
- If your impairment does not meet or exceed these criteria, then it must prevent you from performing any of your past work.
- You must not be able to perform any other type of work, based on your condition, age, education, past work experience, and job skills.
Even if you do not meet the Blue Book listing for COPD, you can still qualify for SSDI and/or SSI benefits if your condition is severe enough that you are not able to work.
The SSA analyzes disability claims for COPD under its listing for chronic respiratory disorders. You may meet or exceed the criteria for this listing if you have:
- An FEV1 (forced expiratory volume) reading that is less than or equal to the value listed on a table provided by the SSA, based on your age, gender, and height without shoes; OR
- An FVC (forced vital capacity) reading that is less than or equal to the value listed on a table provided by the SSA, based on your age, gender, and height without shoes; OR
- Chronic impairment of gas exchange demonstrated by:
- Average of two unadjusted, single-breath DLCO (diffusing capacity of the lungs) measurements less than or equal to the value listed on a table provided by the SSA, based on your age, gender, and height without shoes; OR
- Arterial PaO2 and PaCO2 measured concurrently by an ABG test, while at rest or during steady state exercise, breathing room air less than or equal to the applicable values in a chart provided by the SSA; OR
- SpO2 measured by pulse oximetry either at rest, during a 6MWT, or after a 6MWT, less than or equal to the value in a chart provided by the SSA.
- 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.
To be approved for Social Security disability benefits for COPD, you will be required to provide medical evidence that proves that your condition meets or exceeds the criteria set forth in the listing of impairment for chronic respiratory disorders. Generally, you will have to submit medical records showing your diagnosis and that includes results for lung function tests that measure the amount of air that you can inhale and exhale.
Other medical records that will support your disability claim include:
- Arterial blood gas test results
- Imaging tests that may show evidence of COPD (typically a chest x-ray or CT scan)
- Documentation of your use of supplemental oxygen, including the flow rate for the oxygen
- Spirometry results
- Pulse oximetry levels
- Records of hospitalizations for COPD or a related condition
- Medications that you are taking, which may include bronchodilators, inhaled steroids, and/or antibiotics
- Other treatments that you may be receiving, such as respiratory therapy or pulmonary rehabilitation
- Any surgeries or procedures that you may have had
- Any related medical complications
Even if you do not meet the requirements of the listing, you may still be eligible for disability benefits if your COPD prevents you from working. To make this determination, the SSA will move to the fourth and fifth steps in the 5 step sequential evaluation. As part of the process, the SSA will evaluate your residual functional capacity (RFC) to determine if there is any type of work that you can do given your symptoms and limitations.
For example, if you suffer from chronic bronchitis that makes it difficult to work consistently or to perform basic tasks, then your RFC will include these limitations. Alternatively, if you require extensive treatment – such as pulmonary rehabilitation or oxygen therapy – then your RFC evaluation will note that you are limited in your ability to work as a result. Ultimately, if a medical professional is able to show that your symptoms prevent you from working in either your past occupation or any other job, then your claim for benefits may be approved.
However, if the SSA determines that you can perform your past work or other sedentary work, then your application will be denied. An experienced New Jersey disability benefits lawyer can work with you to appeal a denial of benefits through each level of the SSA appeals process, starting with a request for reconsideration.
SSDI/SSI Disability Benefits for Related Conditions
COPD can often cause complications such as heart problems, recurrent respiratory infections, depression, and lung cancer. Even if you do not qualify for benefits based on your COPD, if you have developed another medical condition that makes it difficult to work, then you may be eligible for disability benefits. A disability benefits lawyer will submit evidence of all related impairments to put together the strongest possible case for benefits.
For example, if you have experienced heart problems due to decreased oxygen levels in your blood, then you may qualify under the SSA’s listing for cardiovascular impairments. The criteria that you will need to meet will vary based on the specific condition at issue. Documentation of your diagnosis, symptoms, and any ECG or stress test results will support your claim.
Putting together a strong application for benefits can be difficult, particularly if you are suffering from one or more health conditions that make it difficult for you to function. An experienced disability benefits attorney will help you gather the necessary medical evidence and other proof for your application for benefits.
Applying for Social Security Disability
If your COPD has progressed to the point that you are unable to work or if you are suffering from related medical conditions, then you may be eligible for Social Security disability benefits. The next step in the application process is to gather documentation of your disability and how it affects your ability to work. You can then file an application online, over the phone, or at a local Social Security field office.
Keep in mind that it is not enough to show that you have COPD. You must be able to prove that your COPD affects your ability to work. In addition, your COPD must meet or exceed the Blue Book criteria – or you must show that your condition has left you unable to perform either your past work or other sedentary work.
It is possible to apply for SSDI and/or SSI benefits on your own. However, there are many pitfalls in the process, which leads to a high rate of denials at the initial application level. Working with an NJ disability lawyer can improve your chances of being approved for monthly benefits. If your claim has already been denied, an attorney can advocate for you with an appeal.
I Got COPD from Smoking. Will That Affect My Eligibility for Benefits?
No. The SSA bases its determination on the severity of your symptoms and how they affect your ability to work. Whether your COPD was caused by smoking, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or another factor, the SSA will evaluate your disability application based on your symptoms and if you are able to work.
Applying for disability benefits can be challenging. Our law firm is here to help. Give us a call today to schedule a free consultation with a disability attorney.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for My Disability Claim for COPD?
You can file for disability benefits on your own, without an attorney. However, there are numerous advantages to having legal representation. Most importantly, a lawyer will understand the types of evidence needed to prove that (1) you meet or exceed the criteria in the listing of impairments for COPD; and (2) that you cannot work because of your COPD.
At the same time, your attorney will examine other possible conditions that could be included as part of your application – such as heart problems or cancer-related to your COPD. In this way, you may be able to build a stronger claim for benefits. Contact Bross & Frankel today to schedule a free claim review.
When Can I Apply for Disability Benefits for My COPD?
You do not have to be out of work for a year to apply for SSDI/SSI benefits. As long as you expect to be unable to work for 12 months or longer because of your COPD – or your condition is terminal – then you can file your claim for benefits. However, SSDI/SSI is not intended to provide short-term benefits. If you will be able to return to work in under a year, then you should explore other options for disability benefits.
If you have questions about your eligibility for benefits, give our law firm a call. During a free consultation, the lawyers of Bross & Frankel will listen to your story and advise you of your rights.
How We Can Help
If you have been diagnosed with COPD you may qualify for SSDI and/or SSI disability benefits. Our law firm can work with you to help you submit a successful claim for disability benefits. We can also help you file an appeal if your claim has been denied.
Based in Cherry Hill, NJ, Bross & Frankel helps people throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania get the disability benefits that they need. We are fierce advocates for our clients, working diligently to get the best possible result. To learn more about how we can help you or to schedule a free claim review, call our office today at (866) 694-7952 or contact us online.