Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) refers to various inflammatory lung diseases like bronchitis and emphysema that occur and worsen on a regular basis. Those who suffer from COPD experience shortness of breath, coughing, and related pain that can prevent activity and work.
If you suffer from COPD and are no longer capable of working or supporting yourself, you may qualify for Social Security disability benefits, created to provide monthly assistance to those in severe need. If you think disability benefits may be right for you, continue below to see how to apply.
Step One: Determine how much your COPD limits you.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) handles thousands of disability applications a year. For your application to be approved, it is important to show that your disability is severe enough to require continued monthly financial support. To do this, you must first analyze all the ways your COPD affects your daily life.
For instance, most people with moderate to severe COPD experience shortness of breath and coughing. This may make it difficult to walk any distance or lift objects reliably, which would make working any physical job difficult. This could also make it difficult to clean the home, cook, or even walk to the bathroom, which would further explain your need for assistance.
If the lasting symptoms of your stroke make working life and daily life painful or more difficult, Social Security is more likely to approve you for benefits.
Step Two: Get test results confirming the severity of your condition.
While some people with COPD experience crippling side effects, others continue to function rather normally and may not even know they have it. This means, when applying for benefits, it is important to provide the SSA with as much physical evidence as possible to show that your COPD prevents you from living your normal life.
The best types of evidence you can provide for COPD are spirometry tests (determine your lung capacity), DLCO tests (measure how much oxygen your blood can carry), oxygen saturation tests, and imaging scans of the lungs. If your results show a severe obstruction of your breathing in relation to your age, weight and height, you may qualify for disability via the “Blue Book”, the SSA’s disability guidebook.
If your diagnosis doesn’t fit the Blue Book, this doesn’t mean you are disqualified from receiving benefits — you can still get your application approved by providing enough supporting evidence.
Step Three: Gather tax info, work history, and prepare to fill out the application.
Before applying for benefits, you should prepare as much information about your life and history as possible. Two of the most important additional documents you must provide on your application are a) your tax information, and b) your past work history.
Tax information allows the SSA to see how much money you have contributed to Social Security in your years of work. Depending on your age, you must have contributed a certain amount of money (called “credits”) to Social Security in order to qualify.
Work history is also provided to show the SSA what types of work you have experience in, when/if you stopped working, and whether or not your illness prevents you from working similar jobs.
Other Ways To Qualify
If you don’t meet the criteria of a medical listing, you may still be able to qualify for disability benefits using a medical-vocational allowance. When a medical vocational allowance is used, Disability Determination Services (DDS) will consider your medical conditions, your age, your work history, your restrictions and limitations, your transferrable skills, and your educational background.
When there is medical-vocational allowance review, a residual functional capacity (RFC) will be completed. This form is very detailed and will clearly indicate what you can and cannot do. As an example, it would indicate because of your COPD you cannot work around dust or inhalants. Because of shortness of breath, you may be limited in how far you can walk, what you can lift and carry, your ability to bend, squat, and crouch, and so forth.
If your treating physician will complete the RFC that can be very beneficial. Because, after all, the doctor who has been treating you for the condition knows more about your abilities than anyone else. You will also need to provide very detailed medical records, that confirm your diagnosis and how you are affected by COPD.
When you are using the medical vocational allowance, the testimony of others can be helpful. These statements would be from those who are familiar with your situation and how your medical issues affect you. Your former co-workers and former supervisors could explain how your health has changed your ability to work, your family members will know how your daily routine is affected, and if you have a caregiver, they can also provide additional details.
Multiple Medical Problems
If you cannot qualify for disability benefits based on your COPD alone, you may be able to qualify if you have other medical conditions. All your medical conditions should be mentioned, and they will all be reviewed as part of your disability claim. Having multiple medical conditions can increase your chances of having your claim approved and being awarded disability benefits.
Even if your impairments don’t meet the criteria of a listing exactly, the SSA is required to review whether your symptoms are medically equivalent to the criteria in the listing. To equal a listing, your diagnoses, symptoms, and test results don’t have to match the requirements of the listing exactly. The SSA cannot evaluate each of your medical conditions individually to see if the evidence supplied meets the criteria for a listing.
As an example, you have COPD and experience shortness of breath, but your FEV1 is higher than the criteria in the listing for chronic pulmonary insufficiency in the Blue Book. Then you also have arthritis. To meet the listing for inflammatory arthritis in the Blue Book, you must show that you have repetitive flareups that limit your daily living activities, your social functioning, and your ability to complete tasks along with at least two of these symptoms – malaise, extreme fatigue, weight loss, and fever. You are severely affected by joint pain and stiffness, but you don’t have two of the required symptoms.
The SSA will review both conditions – COPD and arthritis – then consider if the combined effects of the two conditions equal an impairment that is severe as the COPD or arthritis listings. If the SSA finds that your two medical problems are medically equal to the Blue Book listing for COPD, you will be awarded disability benefits just as if you met the listing criteria.
Using A Medical-Vocational Allowance
If you are unable to meet the criteria of a listing, you may still qualify using a medical-vocational allowance. A medical-vocational allowance takes several things into consideration. They will consider your age, your medical conditions, your work history, your transferrable skills, and your educational background. All these things along with your symptoms, treatments, and side effects are reviewed to determine if you can perform any kind of work and earn a living.
You will supply all the details, such as your work history, work responsibilities, and job title along with your salary history. You should make sure you provide all the details about your educational background as well. Documentation is essential to the success of the claim, so be sure to provide detailed medical records that clearly state the severity of your symptoms, confirms your diagnosis, and details your treatments, your response to the treatments, and any side effects that are caused by the treatment.
If you are older, and if you have limited education, they will consider it more difficult for you to retrain for a new job or to switch careers. Also the job market will come into play because if you can only do a job that isn’t in demand in the current economy or in your community, they will view you as unemployable because you couldn’t get work doing the job that you are capable of doing.
Why Use A Disability Attorney?
A disability lawyer will help you gather the supporting documentation that your claim needs to be approved. Your attorney will also review all your medical records and make sure that your records have the detailed information that will let the SSA review the severity of your case and determine how you are affected by your medical problems.
With the help of a disability attorney, your chances of having your claim approved and being awarded benefits increase. Disability attorneys have undergone extensive training and stay current on the SSA laws and when changes are made. When you enlist the help of a disability lawyer, you will not pay anything out of pocket because your lawyer will not be paid until your claim has been approved and you are awarded back pay.
The SSA has set the regulations that determine how much an attorney can be paid for a disability claim. A lawyer will not receive more than 25 percent of your back pay and their payment cannot exceed $6,000. You can enlist the help of an attorney at any point during the disability claims process.