What Is The VA Disability Rating for Lung Nodules?
Every year, millions of people, including many veterans, are diagnosed with pulmonary (lung) nodules. According to research published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, these are often incidental findings connected with lung cancer screenings.
If you developed lung nodules as a result of military service, you may be eligible for disability compensation through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. This guide will outline some of the main ways to prove service connection for lung nodules, as well as how the VA rates this condition.
What Are Lung Nodules?
A lung nodule is defined by the Cleveland Clinic as a growth inside the lung, measuring less than 3 cm (or 1.2 inches) in diameter. Round or oval in appearance, a pulmonary nodule is sometimes called a spot on the lung. Growths larger than nodules are classified as masses. Unlike pulmonary masses, most nodules are not indicative of lung cancer.
The symptoms of lung nodules can range from none to severe. Examples are:
- No symptoms, with no significant effects upon the veteran’s work or daily activities
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pains
- Nodule-related distress ranging from mild to severe, possibly due to a near-cancer diagnosis
Here, we discuss what lung nodules mean with respect to VA disability ratings and benefits.
Service Connection for Lung Nodules
To prove entitlement to a service connection for lung nodules, you must establish a direct connection between military service and the diagnosed condition. Key records are:
- The veteran’s medical records, such as computed tomography scans (CT scans) and chest x-rays, pertinent to lung health from the time in service. An example of evidence is a diagnostic test taken during the time of service, showing lung nodules.
- The vet’s medical records after discharge, including, for example, the results of scans and pulmonary function tests to determine whether the veteran’s Forced Expiratory Volume is affected
To claim VA disability benefits, the veteran must show what’s called a “nexus” between the service and the condition, as laid out in the case Shedden v. Principi, 381 F.3d 1163 (2004). Your health care provider typically writes this nexus letter to present to the VA.
This means, for lung nodules, the vet must show:
- A current disability related to lung nodules. This must include evidence of the disability, and it must be near the time of the claim to be timely.
- Something that happened during the time of service that caused or aggravated the disability. Examples could include exposure to soot, fuel, smoke, or fumes during service—depending on the research that shows a connection with the pollution and lung nodules.
- A medical connection between the current diagnosed disability to that occurrence or incident during service. As defined under federal law, this may include active duty or inactive duty for training. An example of making this connection would be a doctor’s opinion that the present lung nodules are connected with the veteran’s military service.
Secondary Service Connection for Lung Nodules
Disabilities can be claimed if they are not directly connected to the veteran’s service in the Army, Navy, or Air Force, but are instead secondary service connections (38 C.F.R. § 3.309-310). In some cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs misses indirect connections that constitute valid claims.
Lung nodules can be secondary to several underlying physical conditions, such as a chronic condition in the respiratory system. If, for example, you have chronic bronchitis (Diagnostic Code 6600), you may subsequently be diagnosed with lung nodules. A properly-presented secondary disability claim may succeed in raising your level of benefits when a new condition results from a service-connected disability.
If you have new symptoms, let our office know. Even if you did not experience any secondary conditions when you first filed, you can file a new claim for a secondary service connection that developed later on.
Compensation & Pension (C&P) Exams for Lung Nodules
Before authorizing disability benefits, the VA may require a veteran to undergo a C&P exam. The VA can require this test whenever it receives a disability claim. It is used to rate the disability and validate service connection. It’s the veteran’s job to demonstrate the claim, and if the evidence is considered 50-50, the veteran, by law, gets the benefit of the doubt. The examiners do not decide on the spot. Instead, they report to the VA Regional Office (RO), so a decision can be processed.
First, the vet receives a notice in the mail to attend the exam. Preparation and knowledgeable advice can make a successful outcome more likely. The veteran’s medical expert can fill out the Disability Benefits Questionnaire to support the claim. On the day of the exam, the veteran is allowed to bring a witness. They can also take any helpful reminders and notes about their symptoms to the exam. Generally, the more notes the veteran takes, the better. A seemingly insignificant symptom can be the reason a case is approved. After the exam, careful notes can act as a record of the experience and be useful later if there is a questionable decision.
How Does the VA Rate Lung Nodules?
A compensable rating means benefits will be granted for service-connected lung nodules in one or both lungs. Tumors of the lungs are rated using the Diagnostic Code 6820: “Neoplasms, benign, any specified part of the respiratory system.” They are evaluated by “an appropriate respiratory analogy”—that is, as other disabilities of the respiratory system are assessed. This rating schedule also includes conditions like bronchiectasis, asbestosis, rhinitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other types of vascular diseases.
The VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities is the instrument used for rating a veteran’s disability. This schedule of ratings, by which disability payment amounts are decided, sets out a range from 10 to 100% disability. The percent disability rating reflects how severe the condition is. What does this mean in real-world terms? A lung nodule’s impact on the veteran’s disability will be determined by medical questions, such as:
- Whether the nodule is stable or changing
- Whether the nodule is causing symptoms
- Whether or not the vet is receiving treatment
- Whether lung and chest examinations are normal
- What information appears in the vet’s medical records after discharge, including results of pulmonary function tests
- Whether the veteran has lost time from work in the past year
- Whether a doctor has found the nodule connected to significant effects upon the veteran’s ability to work or carry out daily activities
In short, the case for disability benefits will not succeed if there are no disabling effects.
Contact Us for Help
This website offers general information to our readers and cannot be considered case-specific. To discuss your situation, contact us for an initial, complimentary case evaluation. Whether your claim is new, or you have received a questionable denial for VA disability compensation, Hill and Ponton is here to support, advise, and advocate for your case.