Medically Qualifying for Disability with COPD

Medically qualifying for social security with COPD

Severe COPD can qualify for disability benefits. Achieving a disability approval though requires you have not just a diagnosis, but appropriate medical evidence to back up your claim. Financial hardship can sometimes prevent people from seeking treatment and building a medical history in the process. If this is true for you, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will still consider your application and even send you for evaluations with a contracted physician to get the records they need on your condition. If your COPD is severe and significantly disrupts or prevents employment entirely, then you can be approved for benefits.

The COPD Disability Listing
The SSA has disability listings for hundreds of medical conditions that it shares in its online Blue Book manual. This book is used by disability determinations staff when they decide eligibility for benefits. If you meet or closely match a disability listing, then you’re medically eligible. The COPD listing appears in Section 3.02, which covers various chronic respiratory disorders.

Medical Evidence Requirements
The SSA ideally needs to see medical evidence of breathing decline over time, despite following prescribed treatments. If these details are lacking in your medical history, the SSA can still approve you for benefits, if they’re able to see that your breathing is so compromised that it would prevent you from working or earning a living.

Even if you require oxygen on a regular basis, this alone is not sufficient proof of disability for the SSA. Instead, they need detailed records showing why oxygen is necessary. Particular tests are required to measure and document breathing ability, including how well your lungs are able to transfer oxygen to your blood stream for delivery throughout the body. These tests include spirometry and pulse oximetry, among others.

Blood tests and other records also help strengthen your claim by showing how COPD affects your daily functioning. Doctor’s notes from appointments and physical exams build a stronger claim too, including those that document common symptoms of advanced COPD, like dizziness, fatigue, blackouts, or frequent bouts of pneumonia. If you’ve spent time in the ER or hospital, the SSA will need these records as well, including any that relate to COPD complications, like if you’ve required treatment after aspirating food or liquids into your lungs.

Enlist Your Doctor’s Help
The COPD listing is one of the most complicated disability listings to understand if you’re not a medical professional. It includes a number of charts that examine breathing capacity alongside body weight, sex, and other factors. Your doctor can help you translate these charts and understand whether you’re likely to “automatically” meet medical eligibility requirements, or if you’ll have to fight a little harder to try to get approved for disability.

Applying for Benefits
A disability claim may be filed in a couple of different ways. Online application is handy, especially if you struggle to get out and about. If you choose to though, you can also apply at the local branch, with the help of an SSA representative.

How Disability Benefits Can Improve Your Life
Once approved, Social Security disability benefits can help improve your life in many ways. Here are just a couple of ways you can utilize your monthly disability payments:

  • Paying for rent, groceries, and other household needs
  • Paying for all medical bills
  • Monthly medications and vitamins
  • Childcare, in-home care, or other related costs
  • Movie tickets or other entertainment items
  • Tools that can help you return to work someday, such as assistive technology or specialized training in another field

If you’re ever unsure about a purchase you’d like to make with your disability benefits, you can always speak with the SSA representative who handles your case. Once approved, you can focus on maintaining your health.

This article was written by the Outreach Team at Disability Benefits Help. They provide information about disability benefits and the application process. To learn more, please visit their website at or by contacting them at


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  • my FEV1 post is 1.36 l, my FEV1/FVC post is 30.83% ; my FEV1 pre is 1.14 l, my FEV1/FVC pre is 25.85%
    • Frank - some of the guidelines for qualifying for Social Security for COPD are found here, and are based upon your height, age, gender and how many liters you are able to blow on a pft.

      Scroll down to section 3.02.

  • Thanks for sharing this article. The section titled "Medical Evidence Requirements" is especially helpful to read and understand. The diagnosis of COPD is not enough to qualify for SSA benefits, as many people with COPD are still actively working in their careers. The use of oxygen is not a reason to qualify for SSA. It takes the documentation of the toll the disease is taking on your health and ability to perform your daily tasks. Showing that you have been seen and treated for the condition are key - but there's more instruction in the next phrase to note. The following criteria: "despite following prescribed treatments" is equally as important. Taking medications as they are prescribed, following suggested dietary changes, exercise plans, etc as directed by your doctor are included in that short little phrase. If you can show that you have done everything you can to remain healthy, yet still show a decline, it is easier to make the case for the SSA team.
    Great article - informative and easy to read!