VA Chronic Lung Disease and Constrictive Bronchiolitis

During the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Gulf Wars, members of the U.S. military were often exposed to harsh desert-like conditions with harmful airborne irritants. These exposures can have long-lasting effects on respiratory health. Many service members are coming back with chronic lung disease and constrictive bronchiolitis.

Illnesses resulting from toxic exposure are often eligible for VA disability benefits. Many illnesses stemming from toxic exposure, including constrictive bronchiolitis, are considered presumptive service conditions under the PACT Act. If Veterans have a presumptive condition, they don’t need to prove that their service caused the condition. They only need to meet the service requirements for the presumption.

Understanding the connection between military service and current health challenges is crucial for seeking the benefits Veterans deserve.

What is Constrictive Bronchiolitis and How Does It Affect Veterans?

Constrictive bronchiolitis is a rare lung disease that causes shortness of breath and irreversible airway obstruction.

More than 10 years ago, a case series was published in the New England Journal of Medicine describing symptomatic military personnel previously deployed to Southwest Asia who were suffering from unexplained dyspnea (shortness of breath). Researchers evaluated returning Afghanistan and Iraq war Veterans who were exposed to irritants caused by sulfur-mine fires, combat smoke, and desert dust storms. Lung biopsies in 38 of 49 patients in this series were interpreted as manifesting features consistent with constrictive bronchiolitis (CB).

Many of these 38 Veterans entered these war zones in top physical condition but came back barely able to run a few miles. This study is a breakthrough for Veterans of recent wars trying to establish their diagnosis of constrictive bronchiolitis as a service-connected injury.

Constrictive Bronchiolitis Symptoms and Effects

Constrictive bronchiolitis is a lung condition characterized by symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, and fatigue. These symptoms can have a significant impact on a Veteran’s daily life and ability to work.

Persistent coughing is often accompanied by shortness of breath. This can make simple tasks like walking or climbing stairs challenging, leading to feelings of frustration and exhaustion. Additionally, wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound when breathing, can occur due to narrowed airways, further aggravating breathing difficulties.

Fatigue is another hallmark symptom of constrictive bronchiolitis, stemming from the body’s increased effort to breathe and the decreased oxygen supply to tissues. Veterans with this condition may find themselves constantly tired, even after minimal exertion, which can interfere with their ability to engage in everyday activities and maintain employment.

These symptoms can significantly impact the quality of life, making it difficult to perform tasks Veterans once enjoyed in their chosen profession. In some cases, constrictive bronchiolitis may even prevent Veterans from working altogether, leading to financial strain and emotional distress.

Chronic Lung Disease and the PACT Act

The PACT Act was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022. It expands VA health care and benefits for toxic exposure. This includes Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances. The VA added more than 20 burn pit and other toxic exposure presumptive conditions based on the PACT Act. This change expands benefits for Gulf War era and post-9/11 Veterans in recognized locations.

Denis McDonough, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), told PBS NewsHour that more than 4 million Veterans from 30 years of war in locations including Southwest Asia theater of operations, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia may be eligible for disability benefits under the PACT Act. He said the VA has seen about 800,000 disability benefits applications for presumptive conditions including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis since the PACT Act was signed into law.

Gulf War Veteran Presumptive Conditions

According to the VA fact sheet for presumptive disability benefits, if Veterans served on or after September 11, 2001, in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, or Yemen or if they served in the Southwest Asia theater of operations, or Somalia, on or after August 2, 1990, specific conditions include respiratory cancer of any type, asthma that was diagnosed after service, chronic bronchitis, constrictive bronchiolitis or obliterative bronchiolitis, emphysema, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, and other chronic lung diseases and cancers. A full list can be found on the VA website.

The Southwest Asia theater of operations refers to Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the neutral zone between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman, the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, the Red Sea, and the airspace above these locations.

Sources of Toxic Exposure Linked to Chronic Lung Disease

During their service in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other conflict-affected regions, Veterans were exposed to a multitude of airborne irritants and environmental hazards that could have lasting effects on their respiratory health. One significant hazard was sulfur-mine fires, which occurred frequently in areas like Iraq, releasing sulfur dioxide and other harmful gasses into the air. These fires not only produced toxic fumes but also emitted particulate matter that could irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory conditions.

Combat smoke was another common airborne irritant encountered by Veterans during their deployments. Whether from controlled burns, vehicle exhaust, or burning trash heaps, combat smoke contains a mixture of pollutants and toxins, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds. Prolonged exposure to combat smoke could lead to respiratory irritation, inflammation, and long-term lung damage.

In addition to sulfur-mine fires and combat smoke, Veterans were also exposed to desert dust storms, which swept through the arid landscapes of Iraq and Afghanistan with alarming frequency. These dust storms carried fine particulate matter, sand, and other debris, which could irritate the respiratory tract and exacerbate existing lung conditions. Furthermore, the dust often contained hazardous substances such as heavy metals, pesticides, and biological agents, posing additional health risks to those exposed.

Environmental hazards present in conflict zones created a toxic cocktail of airborne irritants that many Veterans were exposed to during their military service.

Diagnosing Constrictive Bronchiolitis in Veterans

Obtaining a correct diagnosis of constrictive bronchiolitis can be challenging due to several factors including the rarity of the condition and the need for specialized testing such as lung biopsies. Constrictive bronchiolitis is a relatively rare lung disease, meaning that many healthcare providers may not be familiar with its symptoms and diagnostic criteria. As a result, Veterans experiencing respiratory symptoms may initially receive misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses, leading to delays in appropriate treatment and support.

Filing a VA Disability Benefits Claim for Chronic Lung Disease and Bronchiolitis

Legal representation is important in navigating the appeals process for VA disability claims. Our Berry Law attorneys have extensive experience in Veterans’ law. We understand the complexities of the claims process and can provide valuable guidance and advocacy to Veterans seeking benefits.

We can gather relevant evidence, develop persuasive arguments, and navigate the administrative procedures involved in filing and appealing claims.

In cases where a claim is denied or disputed by the VA, legal representation becomes even more critical. Attorneys can represent Veterans in appeals hearings before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) and, if necessary, in federal court. They can argue for Veterans, present evidence, and challenge decisions made by the VA.

Contact Berry Law Today

At Berry Law, our experienced Veterans disability lawyers represent Veterans nationwide. We are dedicated to helping them appeal claims to obtain the benefits that they deserve. Our Berry Law team has attorneys, investigators, and other legal professionals who are Veterans themselves. We understand the VA disability benefits claims process, and we know where Veterans are coming from. For chronic lung disease and constrictive bronchiolitis VA appeals, call us at 888-883-2483 or fill out our online contact form.

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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