Getting Disability Benefits for Pulmonary Fibrosis

If your pulmonary fibrosis severely affects your physical abilities, you should be able to get disability benefits.

Updated October 25, 2016

Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition where your lungs create scar tissue (known as fibrosis) that interferes with the lungs' ability to supply oxygen. Symptoms include difficulty breathing (dyspnea), coughing, tiredness, and lack of appetite. Pulmonary fibrosis is a condition that will likely worsen over time.

Pulmonary fibrosis can occur from many different causes. If your doctor is uncertain of how your pulmonary fibrosis began, the term used is idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Your doctor may confirm a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis by ordering a chest x-ray, a computerized tomography or CT scan, or by using a spirometer (measuring your lung flow) or oximeter (measuring the amount of oxygen in your blood).

Receiving Disability Benefits for Pulmonary Fibrosis

If a doctor has diagnosed you with pulmonary fibrosis and you have been unable to work for some time (or you are fairly certain you won't be able to work for at least a year), you should consider applying for disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). Based on your past work history, you could apply for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and/or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits.

If you have idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (no known cause), you may be eligible for a fast-tracked decision through Social Security's compassionate allowance program.

Whether Your Pulmonary Fibrosis Meets a Disability Listing

When reviewing your medical file, the SSA will first consider whether your medical evidence meets a disability listing found in the SSA's Listing of Impairments. Pulmonary fibrosis would be considered in Section 3.00, Respiratory Disorders. There is no separate listing for pulmonary fibrosis; instead, Social Security would consider whether your claim satisfies the requirements for listing 3.02, chronic respiratory disorders. One way to meet listing 3.02 is by presenting lung function test results showing you have a severely reduced FEV (forced expiratory volume) or FVC (forced vital capacity). You would need to undergo a spirometer test, either at a pulmonologist's office or at a consultative exam, to gather an FEV or FVC value. To find the FEV or FVC values that qualify you for disability, see our article on disability for chronic pulmonary problems.

Consideration of Your Residual Functional Capacity

If the SSA finds that your condition does not meet a disability listing (few do), the SSA will assess your residual functional capacity (RFC). Your RFC is an explanation of what type of work activities you can and cannot perform. In creating your RFC, the SSA will consider your ability to perform a variety of tasks during an eight-hour workday, including sitting, standing, walking, using your arms, bending, stooping, concentrating on tasks, and following instructions. To be found disabled, your RFC will need to show that you are unable to perform the jobs you held in the last fifteen years and any other jobs in the U.S.

When you have severe pulmonary fibrosis, your RFC might look like the following: significant fatigue that makes you unable to stand or walk for more than two-hours in an eight-hour day, no exposure to irritants or fumes, and episodes of shortness of breath that would cause you to miss work more than two days in a month. With such an RFC, you should be found disabled.

What You Can Do to Help Your Disability Case

Since pulmonary fibrosis can affect individuals differently, it is important that you clearly describe to the SSA why you are unable to work. Quite often, when assessing your RFC, the SSA will include a limitation on your exposure to fumes and chemicals but will overlook whether your pulmonary fibrosis also affects your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift, and carry. If possible, you should submit a letter from your doctor describing the limitations you have in these functional areas, what activities cause shortness of breath, and whether you have tried medication or other treatments to help control your pulmonary fibrosis.

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