Is COPD a Disability?
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD causes inflammation of the lungs and limits airflow to the body. COPD is usually the result of exposure to airborne irritants, or in rare cases, a genetic abnormality. But is COPD a disability?
Yes, if your symptoms are severe and your are unable to work as a result, you may eligible for disability benefits.
What Are the Causes of COPD?
COPD is an inflammatory disease that affects the lungs and restricts your ability to breathe. Conditions such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis are considered types of COPD.
Generally, COPD is caused by exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, harmful gases, dust from wood, grain, or coal, or reflux disease. In rare cases, COPD may be caused by a genetic abnormality related to an AAT-deficiency.
What Are the Symptoms of COPD?
The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or gasping for breath. As the disease progresses, COPD sufferers may have frequent respiratory infections, blueness in the lips and fingernails, mucus development or fatigue upon exertion.
If COPD is diagnosed in the early stages, symptoms can often be treated by medication and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking. Treatment for more progressive COPD involves pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen therapy, and steroid inhalers to open airflow.
COPD is often one of several medical problems an individual may have. Conditions such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure may occur with COPD.
How Is COPD Diagnosed?
If you're experiencing the symptoms of COPD, your doctor should perform tests such as spirometry testing which shows how much air you can exhale in one second, an arterial blood gas test, and take chest x-rays. A functional capacity evaluation or FCE will show your ability to perform physical tasks related to work and day-to-day life.
Objective evidence of COPD is especially important when filing a disability claim. These results will be scrutinized by your insurance company as proof of your condition.
Neuropsychology and COPD
One area of COPD diagnosis that is often neglected is neuropsychological testing. Individuals with COPD are often affected by cognitive conditions which stem from long-term reduced oxygen supply to the brain. Impaired memory, a decreased ability to analyze information or learn new information, reduced ability to concentrate, and physical impairments such as writing, gesturing or performing some motor functions.
COPD and Long-Term Disability Benefits
People with advanced COPD may have irreversible lung damage that makes breathing difficult and may limit their ability to oxygenate their blood. COPD may make it impossible to work and may limit the ability to perform everyday responsibilities. Despite this debilitating condition, insurance companies may make it difficult to obtain disability benefits. Insurance companies often deny long-term disability benefits for COPD for reasons such as:
- Claiming there is no objective basis of COPD
- Restrictions and limitations caused by COPD are subjective
- Inability to connect a COPD diagnosis with the inability to work
- Claiming that sedentary work is still possible
Prepare a Strong Case for Your COPD Long-Term Disability Claim
Your first step is to read your insurance policy carefully for any requirements for self-reported information about your symptoms and limitations. The following documentation will improve your chances of receiving long-term disability benefits.
- Review copies of your medical records to be sure they are complete and accurate. Be sure your records include objective tests for your COPD diagnosis, your symptoms, and physician-ordered restrictions and limitations.
- Ask for a copy of your personnel file to see if there are notes that indicate how COPD has affected your ability to work
- Get a copy of your job description and explain how COPD prevents you from performing the duties of your occupation
- Keep a diary of the ways your symptoms affect your ability to perform daily tasks and provide examples of how your activities are limited
- Consistently follow any treatment plan prescribed by your physician and include a record of your treatments
In addition to a written statement from your physician, the insurance company may require a residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment. This assessment will state the type of work you are able to do and at what level of exertion such as sedentary work, light work, etc. It's crucial to demonstrate to the insurance company not just your symptoms but how your symptoms prevent you from performing your work.