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COPD and SSD

November is COPD Awareness Month. COPD, or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is an illness that gets worse over time and makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. It also results in wheezing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. The term covers two primary conditions - chronic or acute bronchitis and emphysema. In the United States, around 14 million people have been diagnosed with one of the forms of COPD.

Breathing difficulties caused by COPD makes it very difficult for individuals with COPD to perform many of the activities of daily living, including working, and the Social Security Administration (SSA) has listed this disease as a qualifying condition for disability benefits. However, simply having the diagnosis is not enough to qualify a person for disability benefits.

Patients must take a lung function test performed by a doctor hired by Social Security. "Passing" the test means that your airflow is very limited. The SSA has tables based on height that determine the airflow threshold for eligibility for SSD benefits.

Another consequence of having COPD is that you body is unable to oxygenate your blood effectively. Some people whose airflow exceeds the limits established by the SSA are still able to receive disability benefits because they can demonstrate that the level of oxygen in the blood is too low the amount of carbon monoxide is too high. The tests that can show the oxygenation capacity of your lungs are known as DLCO (diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide) score or ABG (arterial blood gas values of oxygen and carbon dioxide).

Even if a person's oxygenation and airflow levels do not meet the criteria established by Social Security, he or she may still be able to qualify for SSD benefits if it can be documented that the breathing disorder makes it impossible to perform certain activities, such as lifting, walking, or remaining in dusty areas. If your inability to do these things means that you cannot perform work that is suited to your education and experience, you may still be able to qualify for benefits based on a diagnosis of COPD.

Proving eligibility for SSD benefits because of COPD can be challenging, and many applications are initially denied. If this has happened to you, do what many others have done: Turn to the advocates at Binder & Binder®, America's most successful SSD advocates. Learn how we can help you as we have helped countless other individuals who have become disabled and unable to work.

Source: Social Security website, "Disability Evaluation Under Social Security, Respiratory System - Adult," Sep. 2008.

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