COPD affects nearly 30 million Americans, according to the COPD Foundation. The Foundation says over half of those affected do not know COPD is the cause of their health issues. Many of them may believe their symptoms come from aging, but COPD is the cause.

COPD can be a debilitating and costly disease. It robs its victims of their energy and breath and impacts their entire life. Living with the disease requires costly medications and treatments. This financial strain is often made worse when COPD affects a sufferer’s ability to work.

If you have COPD, and it affects your ability to work, don’t give up hope. You could receive help through Social Security Disability (SSDI) benefits.

What is COPD?

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a blanket term for a group of lung diseases, mainly emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause chronic breathing problems. The diseases cause excessive inflammation in the lungs leading to the obstruction of airflow in and out of the lungs.

The most common cause of the inflammation is chronic inhalation of pollutants such as:

  • Tobacco (cigarette) smoke
  • Chemical fumes
  • Industrial dusts

COPD symptoms typically start with a shortness of breath that may be mistakenly attributed to aging. The shortness of breath leads to issues such as:

  • Increased breathlessness
  • Wheezing
  • Chronic coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Sleep apnea
  • Fatigue

Physical exertion often triggers COPD symptoms. This can greatly affect one’s ability to work.


COPD is listed in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) list of severe medically determinable impairments. This list gives SSA workers criteria for determining a claimant’s eligibility for SSDI benefits. Caseworkers incorporate the criteria of each listing into the 5 step process SSA uses to decide a claimant’s eligibility.

Individuals filing an SSDI claim for COPD must go through the following process:

  1. Determine if the claimant is working at or above the Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA) level as defined by the SSA in the year they file. The SGA level for 2018 is a monthly income of $1180.
  2. Determine if the claimant’s complications from COPD significantly limits their ability to perform basic work activities such as:
  • sitting
  • standing
  • reaching
  • pulling or pushing
  • lifting or carrying
  • simple cognitive reasoning
  1. Determine if the claimant’s COPD meets the criteria outlined in the SSA’s impairments list. The impairment list says a claimant must first show medical proof of a COPD diagnosis. The claimant must also meet the following requirements:

Undergo a lung function test performed by an SSA consulting doctor. The SSA requires specific results according to the claimant’s age, gender, and height from one of the following test:

  • A spirometry test documenting a person’s FEV1 value (amount of air they can force from their lungs in one second) or their FVC value (amount of air they can excel after taking their deepest breath).
  • A DLCO test documenting the capacity of a person’s lungs to diffuse carbon monoxide.
  • An ABG test that documents a person’s PO2 (pressure of oxygen in arterial blood) and PCO2 (pressure of carbon dioxide in the arterial blood) while at rest or a steady state of exercise.


Show proof of hospitalization at least 3 times in the last year because of COPD complications. Each hospitalization must have lasted at least 48 hours and occurred at least 30 days apart.

  1. Determine if the claimant can still do any work they may have done in the past despite complications from their COPD.
  2. Determine if the claimant can do any other type of work based on their:
  • age
  • education
  • prior work experience
  • mental and physical capabilities

Getting Help with Your Claim

Has your doctor diagnosed you with COPD? Does your COPD affect your ability to work? You could be eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits.

But, the approval process to receive benefits is difficult. The SSA requires detailed medical records of how COPD affects your health and evidence of how it affects your daily life. Understanding the requirements and how to complete all the necessary SSA forms, can be complicated.

That is why you need to seek experience to help. One of our experienced SSDI lawyers can guide you through the process. Contact us for a free evaluation of your situation and let our family help your family.