Bacterial lung infections are inflammation of the lungs that various microorganisms can cause. It’s common in Gulf War Veterans who have been exposed to environmental and biological warfare agents in Southwest Asia countries such as Iraq, Kuwait, or Saudi Arabia, to name a few. The VA rates these infections for service-connected disability compensation according to the severity of the symptoms. This guide will cover the more common Gulf War-related lung infections and disabilities.
Many bacterial lung infections we will discuss here can cause permanent scarring to the lungs, so VA considers these under the interstitial lung disease rating criteria. This may qualify you for additional service-connected disability compensation.
Typically, bacterial diseases that affect the lungs will lead to difficulty breathing in and out, so VA will also classify veterans as having restrictive or obstructive lung disease to assign a rating because difficulty breathing is a devastating symptom.
Additionally, these lung diseases can cause additional bacterial infections or be caused by an infection due to how closely related these lung diseases are to each other. Let’s get right into it below!-
Examples of Bacterial Lung Diseases in Veterans
- Chronic Bronchitis
- Lung Abscess (chronic form)
- Interstitial Lung Disease
- Pulmonary Actinomycosis
- and more
We’ll cover two of the more misunderstood ones in this guide. Still, we do have articles specific to certain diseases above. Click to go there!
What is Chronic Lung Abscess?
Chronic lung abscess is an infection in the lungs that starts due to bacteria and can cause extensive lung damage over time. As we said above, many of these conditions can lead and develop into other respiratory complications. Hence, it’s important to monitor your health. It can get scary pretty quickly. The infection can be treated with antibiotics but often leaves permanent scarring to the lungs.
Veterans are more at risk for chronic lung issues because many were exposed to bioengineering weapons during deployment. Other vets will have developed chronic lung disorders due to their job duties, such as a medic or those who worked on aircraft bays with fuels and chemicals, etc.
Common Symptoms of Lung Abscess
One reason bacterial lung diseases are so tough to diagnose and treat at times is being able to differentiate by the symptoms. Below, you’ll see common symptoms and start thinking about how this sounds like pneumonia or nocardiosis, among other issues.
- Coughing up discolored sputum, which may contain bloody streak
- Breathing difficulties
- Chest pain that may radiate to the liver or shoulder when speaking
- Rapid and deep breathing with whistling at the end of inhalation (
- Fever and night sweats
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Weakness and fatigue
How To Establish Service Connection for a Bacterial Lung Disease
To get service-connected for a bacterial lung infection, you’ll need to show three things:
- A current diagnosis of a bacterial lung infection from a licensed medical professional. This can be in x-rays, MRIs, lab work, or a biopsy.
- Exposure to something during service that caused the bacterial infection. This can be due to hazardous materials chemicals, or you were exposed to high levels of bacteria (such as in a hospital setting).
- A nexus letter from a doctor connecting your current diagnosis to your exposure in service.
If you don’t have all three of these things, don’t worry! You can still file a claim, and VA will work with you to get the evidence you need. Remember, these conditions are often intertwined and can complicate other issues, so there may be alternative ways of getting the right compensation for your lung disability.
Secondary Service Connection for Bacterial Lung Infections
In some cases, you may be able to get service-connected for a bacterial lung infection even if you cannot show a direct service connection. This is called “secondary service connection” and can be based on two things:
- A current diagnosis of bacterial lung infection caused or aggravated by another, already service-connected disease or physical condition.
- OR, if the bacterial lung infection is already service-connected, you may be able to secondarily service-connect and receive compensation for related health conditions that can be directly linked as caused by your lung infection.
For example, suppose you have service-connected COPD and also develop a bacterial lung infection like bronchitis. In that case, you may be able to get service-connected for the infection. This is because COPD is a condition that can make it harder to fight off infections.
But what if you’ve already been service-connected for chronic bronchitis and now develop COPD? In this case, you may be able to get service-connected for COPD because it’s a condition caused by the bronchitis lung infection.
What is Nocardiosis?
Nocardiosis is a rare bacterial lung infection caused when the bacteria Nocardia asteroides enter the body. This can happen through inhalation of dust particles, contact with an infected animal or person, or even ingestion. Once in the body, the bacteria can travel to the lungs and cause inflammation and lesions. If left untreated, nocardiosis can spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.
In the case of many Gulf War vets were most likely exposed to the Nocardiosis bacteria by standing water, contaminated soil, and decaying plants commonly seen in desert deployment.
Symptoms of Nocardiosis
While nocardiosis is rare, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms if you or a loved one develops this infection. Symptoms can include:
- Fever and night sweats
- Loss of appetite and weight
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling weak
- and more
Wow, doesn’t that list sound like a lung abscess? There’s a good reason for that! Nocardiosis can often be misdiagnosed as a lung abscess or a different lung condition because the symptoms are similar. This is why it’s important to get a diagnosis from a licensed medical professional and make sure you’re getting the treatment you need.
Va disability rating for bacterial lung infections
There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to VA disability ratings for all bacterial lung infections. When determining your rating, the severity of your symptoms, how often they flare up, and their effect on your daily life will all be taken into account.
The higher your rating, the more compensation you will receive each month. Still, it also means your lung infection is severe enough to where you likely cannot work like you were able to in the past. Also, keep in mind that some infections only qualify veterans for a TEMPORARY 100% rating while the infection is active. If the infection has cleared up, VA will likely reassess your medical condition and lower your rating if there is a material improvement.
Bacterial lung infections can be a serious and life-altering diagnosis in some scenarios. If you’re struggling with breathing after coming home from war, know that you’re not alone.
Denied Gulf War VA Claim?
Don’t give up if you or a loved one has been denied service connection for a bacterial lung infection! We have years of experience fighting for our veterans’ benefits. We’re not going to stop until we get you the compensation you need and deserve. If you have an active rating decision you disagree with, click the button below.
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