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What Respiratory Disorders Qualify for Social Security Disability Benefits?

Millions of Americans struggle with respiratory disorders and 2020 has wrought one of the deadliest respiratory conditions in human history – the coronavirus. Even if someone is able to avoid contracting COVID-19, there is still a serious risk of being diagnosed with another respiratory ailment such as asthma, COPD, and so forth. Public data indicates that close to 25 million Americans are currently living with asthma while close to 15 million Americans are struggling with COPD, according to

Why a Respiratory Disorder Can Be Disabling

A respiratory disorder can have a significant impact on your ability to work, help around the house, play with your children, and/or engage in other activities. Some people with certain serious respiratory ailments may find it difficult to even stand up and walk from Point A to Point B.  As a result, many people struggling with a respiratory disorder simply cannot meet the rigors associated with full-time employment.

What is Information is Needed to Potentially Qualify for Disability Benefits with a Respiratory Disorder

If you have a severe breathing disorder and want to file an application for Social Security disability benefits, there are certain factors that need to be met to have a realistic chance of being approved for disability benefits by the Social Security Administration. Those factors include:

  • How long you have had the respiratory condition;
  • Whether your respiratory condition is expected to improve or will remain severe for the foreseeable future;
  • The types of treatments you have undergone or could realistically be attempted;
  • Your response to the treatment;
  • Your respiratory symptoms need to be documented by objective medical evidence, usually in the form of breathing tests; and
  • You also need to try and compile documentation, or other evidence, that substantiates your claim that you are unable to perform in your current professional capacity or any other type of work.

It is also important that you receive treatment from a medical professional, and continue your treatment, throughout the application process.

Automatic Approval of Benefits If You Were Hospitalized Multiple Times in a Given Year

It is worth noting that if you were hospitalized three times within a given year and each hospitalization lasted at least two days as a proximate result of your respiratory problems, the SSA may automatically approve your application for disability benefits.

Respiratory Disorders That Could Serve as a Basis for Obtaining Disability Benefits

When assessing an applicant’s viability for disability benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) often relies on the guidelines set forth in a “Blue Book.” This Blue Book is categorized by specific medical conditions and functional capacity. There is actually a specific section in the Blue Book that is focused on various respiratory disorders. Let’s take a look at some of the prominent respiratory disorders that are routinely cited in disability benefit applications.

  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) – The SSA’s Blue Book uses “COPD” as a term encompassing multiple lung diseases, including emphysema and bronchitis. COPD is evaluated under Listing 3.02 of the Blue Book for chronic respiratory disorders. People diagnosed with COPD often struggle with reduced breathing capacity related to an obstructed airflow in and out of their lungs. COPD is routinely diagnosed through spirometry, a pulmonary function test that measures the amount of air that can be inhaled and exhaled over a certain period. You will probably meet the requirements for disability benefits if your spirometry test shows that your FEV1 (volume of air exhaled in one second) is equal to, or less than, a given amount depending on your height.
  • Asthma – The requirements for a diagnosis of asthma to serving as the basis for disability benefits can be found in listing 3.03. If an applicant suffers from persistent asthma attacks, which is defined as symptomatic episodes requiring hospitalization three times in a given year, your disability benefits application stands a good chance of being approved by the SSA. However, it is important to note that your asthma attacks need to occur, despite you adhering to your prescribed treatment, at least 30 days apart and must last at least 48 hours each.
  • Cystic Fibrosis – The requirements for cystic fibrosis can be found in listing 3.04. There are various ways an applicant can satisfy the requirements set forth in listing 3.04 for cystic fibrosis to be approved for disability benefits. For example, if you require frequent hospitalizations or have low FEV1 results or oxygen saturation levels (SpO2) then there is a good chance the SSA will approve your application.
  • Sleep Apnea – This is a condition that can significantly impact your ability to obtain restful and restorative sleep. As a result, your ability to function during the day could be hindered to the point that you are unable to work. Sleep apnea is routinely diagnosed based on a combination of self-reported symptoms and objective testing by medical professionals. For example, someone struggling with sleep apnea will receive an official diagnosis after undergoing a sleep study.

Medical-Vocational Allowances for Respiratory Disorders

It is important to understand that, in most instances, only severe respiratory disorders will likely meet the requirements set forth in the SSA’s Blue Book listings. Nevertheless, even if your disorder is not deemed “severe” you could still be eligible for disability benefits. In fact, many applicants who obtain disability benefits do so based primarily on a “medical-vocational allowance.” You are still able to obtain benefits through this allowance because it takes into account the following factors:

  • Your age;
  • Your educational background;
  • Your work experience; and
  • Your residual functional capacity, which assesses whether you can perform any type of full-time work.

As mentioned earlier, when applying for disability benefits based on a respiratory disorder, you need to be prepared to submit objective medical evidence, such as the results of pulmonary function testing and/or a diagnosis from a specialist such as a pulmonologist. In addition to providing specific types of medical records, you should try to supply a residual functional capacity form that has been filled out by your treating doctor. If you do not provide these documents, it can decrease the likelihood of your application moving forward through the review process.

Take Action to See If You Qualify For Disability Benefits

If you are struggling with a debilitating respiratory condition such as COPD, asthma, pneumoconiosis, etc. that has prevented you from working, now is the time for action to assess your potential eligibility for Social Security Disability benefits. Fill out the quick contact form on this page to be connected with a local disability attorney to discuss your particular situation and gain a better sense of whether you could pursue disability benefits.

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