A question I'm often asked is whether a person can get SSDI or SSI benefits for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is also called chronic bronchitis or emphysema. The answer to the question is this - if your COPD is severe enough, you can qualify for SSDI or SSI.
COPD is a listing level disease, which means the SSA has laid out the criteria for it to be automatically considered a disability. This is important because if your COPD meets the requirements in the listing, then the SSA does not have to evaluate whether or not your COPD restrict your functional capacity to such a degree that you qualify for disability benefits.
To see if you meet the listing criteria for COPD, read our article on the chronic pulmonary insufficiency listing. The value measured is called the forced expiratory volume (FEV) at one second and is the amount of air you can exhale (blow out) in one second. If you are close to meeting, or do in fact meet, the required FEV1, you are in pretty bad shape health wise. The required values SSA uses for the FEV1 analysis are considered low because SSA is erring on the side of caution (the agency doesn't want to automatically approve applicants for benefits through the listings unless they are severely and obviously disabled).
If you don't meet the CPI listing, the SSA will evaluate what your functional limitations are. Claimants who have COPD may not be able to tolerate dust, smoke, or fumes and can have problems with extreme temperatures or humidity. The SSA will incorporate such limitations into your RFC. COPD usually also results in an exertional impairment, such as how many hours you can walk or stand and how much you can lift. The full extent of your exertional impairment will have an impact on whether your COPD qualifies for disability.
Many disability applicants with COPD are older than 50 and fall onto what is called the grids (or the medical-vocational grid). Winning disability for a claimant younger than 50 with COPD is difficult unless the COPD is termed as moderate or worse (and often severe or worse is required) and results in significant exertional impairments. A treatment history showing treatment in the past and your response to various medications or treatments can be important to winning in these situations.
For more information, see our article on COPD.