Can You Get Veterans Disability for Asthma? Bronchial Asthma VA Rating Guide

Asthma is one of many respiratory conditions that can develop or get worse during military service. High-stress situations like combat zones can expose lungs to hazardous conditions, like airborne chemicals or military burn pits. If you develop asthma signs while in the military, you may qualify for VA disability benefits. But what is the standard asthma VA rating for disability compensation?

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs uses a rating system for veterans who develop service-connected disabilities. These VA ratings reflect mental and physical conditions that began or got worse during military service. The VA rating percentage applied to each service-connected condition also determines monthly benefit amounts. Keep reading to learn how veterans can receive VA disability benefits for asthma each month.

What is Asthma?

Bronchial asthma, or just “asthma,” is a respiratory condition that causes chronic inflammation in the airways. This chronic inflammation causes airway obstruction, which makes it more difficult to breathe.

While asthmatics may have permanent difficulty breathing, external sources can cause recurrent episodes of more serious asthma symptoms. Doctors commonly refer to these recurrent episodes as “asthma attacks.” Attacks often occur in the middle of the night, early morning, and during or after exercise.

Common asthma attack symptoms include:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing

Several different external sources can cause or worsen asthma symptoms or trigger coughing fits. Exposure to smoke, allergens, heat, or humidity can all trigger shortness of breath. For example, bronchial smooth muscle contractions can create that chest tightness feeling during an asthma attack. The bronchioles, which carry air to alveoli in the lungs, can produce extra mucus that eventually builds up, causing difficulty breathing. Irreversible lung changes (called “remodeling”) or damage that permanently affects the organ’s function can also trigger asthma symptoms.

Approximately 10% of children suffer from asthma, usually linked to allergies during childhood. Exposure to external allergens, such as dust mites, pollen, and fungi, is one of the biggest risk factors for bronchial asthma. However, many children “outgrow” their asthma medical diagnosis as adults. Only 5% of the adult population has a diagnosed asthma condition, and less than half are connected to allergies.

Can Asthma Qualify for VA Disability Benefits?

That said, it is possible to receive an asthma medical diagnosis as an adult due to environmental factors, like exposure to certain chemicals and toxins. This is particularly a risk for veterans with burn pit exposure or who served in high-smoke environments. It’s also possible to develop asthma after viral or bacterial respiratory infections or another bronchial disorder that can damage lungs.

Thanks to the 2022 Pact Act, many veterans that develop asthma symptoms during or after military service may now qualify for VA disability benefits.

Prevalence of Asthma in Veterans

Adult asthma (which the VA defines as occurring after age 13) is a disqualifying condition for military enlistment. This also applies to with other conditions that make airways narrow and breathing more difficult, like asthmatic bronchitis or reactive airway disease. While the doctor at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) evaluates potential recruits on a case-by-case basis, the prevalence of asthma in the military is still lower than the general adult population. 

That said, it is possible to develop asthma from an in-service event after military enlistment. It’s also possible to have a flare-up of childhood asthma deemed not severe enough to prevent military service. In some cases, an honorably discharged veteran may qualify for VA disability benefits for service-connected asthma.

VA Asthma Compensation & Pension Exam

To qualify for VA disability compensation for service-related asthma, you will need a compensation & pension (C&P) exam. After you file your VA disability claim, they’ll schedule this exam with an approved, licensed medical professional. The C&P exam provides the VA with an independent medical opinion to confirm your asthma has a service connection.

This exam also gives you an opportunity to:

  • Present documentation that supports your VA claim, like medical evidence and service records.
  • Fill out a form called an asthma disability benefits questionnaire.
  • Receive a physical assessment of your current medical diagnosis.

To qualify for VA benefits, you must prove that your condition was either caused or worsened by your military service. After the C&P exam, the doctor that examined you sends an assessment and recommendation to the VA. you will be given a VA asthma disability rating.

There are four possible VA disability ratings for asthma, depending on its severity: 10%, 30%, 60%, or 100%. A 100% VA disability rating for asthma means you are permanently and completely unable to work.

proving the service connection for asthma

How is Your Asthma VA Rating Determined?

As well as your medical history and the questionnaire, there are two types of in-person tests used to determine your asthma VA rating. These tests are called the Forced Expiratory Volume Test and the Forced Vital Capacity (FVC) Test. The VA rates asthma for disability compensation using eligibility criteria listed in CFR 38, Part 4.

Tests to Determine Your Asthma VA Disability Rating

Both tests use a spirometer, which is a machine that tests lung function and capacity by measuring:

  • Both the total amount of air that the lungs can take in and expel out, and
  • The rate at which it happens.

Test subjects must inhale as deeply as possible, then exhale as hard as possible through a disposable mouthpiece for one second until the lungs are empty. The second test simply calculates the total amount of air exhaled during the first three tests to determine lung function.

Forced Expiratory Volume (FEV) Test

The FEV (Forced Expiratory Volume) test measures the total amount of air that someone can exhale during a forced breath in just one second. A forced breath means that, instead of exhaling normally, you push the air out of your lungs with as much strength and speed as possible. Think of the effort that you have to put into blowing up a very stubborn balloon. The first one-second breathing FEV test is called FEV 1. After a short break, the doctor asks for a second attempt, which they record as FEV 2. FEV 3 is the final one-second forced breath expulsion test.

Forced Vital Capacity (FVC)

Instead of measuring the amount of air expelled in a single second, the Forced Vital Capacity test measures the total amount of air exhaled during the entire FEV test. This acts as a way to measure total lung capacity from the FEV 1, FEV 2, and FEV3 exhalation tests. Lungs with damage or scarring from asthma usually have a lower capacity than healthy lungs.

spirometry tests help determine your lung capacity

Along with determining a VA rating for asthma, these tests can also help diagnose other breathing problems such as:

  • Respiratory failure
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

FEV 1/FVC tests can also help determine how well asthma treatments work by comparing results from before and after medication use.

Asthma VA Disability Ratings by Severity

The VA uses FEV and FVC test results to assign affected veterans one of four possible VA rating for asthma percentages:

  • 10% – the least severe rating, which indicates 71%-80% lung function capacity. It also indicates a need for occasional inhalational anti-inflammatory medication or oral bronchodilator therapy medication. The current rate of VA pay with a 10% rating is $171.23.
  • 30%indicates 56%-70% lung functionality and daily need for inhalational anti-inflammatory medications, or daily oral bronchodilator therapy.
  • 60%indicates 40%-55% lung capacity, along with a need for monthly doctor’s visits to treat asthma symptoms, or use of systemic corticosteroids at least 3x per year.
  • 100%indicates less than 40% lung capacity or weekly asthma attacks, at minimum, with respiratory failure episodes. It can also indicate the need for high-dose corticosteroids or immunosuppressive medications to treat asthma symptoms. Your 100% VA disability for asthma pay rate would be $3,737.85.

There are some situations in which it is not possible to perform an airway flow test. If you cannot perform these tests for some reason, you can still potentially receive an asthma VA rating.

Without these airway tests, the agency determines your VA asthma disability rating based on medical records and ER visits. For example, two or more asthma attacks per week that result in respiratory failure requiring monthly ER visits to save your life would be a 100% VA asthma disability rating. Someone who only needs occasional inhaler use or other bronchodilator therapy will likely receive a 10% asthma VA rating.

There are several VA secondary conditions that commonly affect people with asthma, such as:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea – a disorder that inhibits breathing during the normal sleep cycle. Snoring, feeling sleepy during the daytime and general fatigue are all possible signs of breathing interruptions from sleep apnea.
  • Chronic bronchitis – a condition that results from a buildup of mucus in the lungs. Chronic bronchitis causes weakened lung function and scarring over time, which can trigger or worsen asthma.

You can file a claim for these as secondary conditions to the primary service-related asthma claim, and the VA will calculate a rating based on the conditions together.

sleep apnea is a common va secondary condition for asthma

Proving Service Connection for Your Asthma Military Disability

Veterans must show a direct service connection in order to receive VA disability for asthma. Depending on the places and times of military service, a veteran’s asthma may even qualify as a presumptive disability.

There are three basic steps to establishing the link between military service and asthma during the claims process:

  1. Get a current diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. This will likely include the airway tests mentioned above.
  2. Identify an in-service event or period of exposure that caused or contributed to adult onset asthma. Frequent causes include breathing in toxic chemicals, exposure to asbestos, or burn pit exposure.
  3. Get a “medical nexus letter” outlining the direct link between military service and the asthma diagnosis itself. The VA C&P doctor typically prepares this letter after reviewing your medical history, test results, and conducting a physical exam.

Veterans that served in certain parts of Southwest Asia and the Persian Gulf diagnosed with asthma within a year of discharge may qualify for a “presumptive service connection.” That means they do not have to prove medical nexus to get a presumptive asthma VA rating. Learn more about toxic chemical exposure and the VA’s burn pit registry.

See If You May Qualify for Free Veterans Disability for Asthma Claim Assistance

Are you unsure if your asthma qualifies you for VA disability benefits? Do you think you may qualify presumptively, but don’t know how to check? Or maybe you already get VA disability benefits for asthma but feel you may deserve a higher VA rating.

We can connect you with a veterans disability lawyer who can help you file an initial claim. Even if you you applied before and were denied, an attorney can help you appeal.

If your attorney doesn’t secure higher monthly benefits for you, you won’t owe anything in legal fees. If do get a higher asthma VA rating, you will only pay one small fee after your higher monthly benefits begin.

Interested to see if you qualify for a free claim review? Take our free online benefits quiz to get started:

Get Your Free Benefits Evaluation

Jaclyn Peralez-Fleming is a freelance writer based out of Houston, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with bachelor’s degrees in Spanish and Radio-Television-Film. She is an active writer on several business and personal projects in development, and lives with her husband and two black cats.