The Push for a New Service-Connected Lung Condition: Constrictive Bronchiolitis

Presumptive service-connected conditions are a blessing for thousands of veterans.  The fact that veterans who served in-county in Vietnam do not actually have to prove how much Agent Orange they were exposed to, let alone that they were exposed to it at all, has proven invaluable for those with diabetes, ischemic heart disease and a few dozen other conditions.  With wars dragging on in the Middle East, new possibilities for presumptive conditions continue to pop up.  One such condition is constrictive bronchiolitis.

What is Constrictive Bronchiolitis?

Constrictive Bronchiolitis is a rare lung disease that is beginning to be found with increased frequency among veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The condition is characterized by the narrowing or obstruction of the lung’s smallest airways, the bronchioles, by scarring or fibrous tissue.

Does the VA Offer Disability Benefits for Constrictive Bronchiolitis?

The Social Security Administration has already acknowledged the severity of the condition by adding it to its list of “compassionate allowances.”  This list allows applicants to automatically be granted benefits because the condition obviously causes one to be disabled.  Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY) is urging VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to add the lung disease to the list of VA presumptive conditions.

Lung Conditions in Soldiers Who Service in the Middle East

The diagnosis can only be confirmed by a surgical lung biopsy, which is quite an invasive procedure that many VA physicians want to avoid.  Despite this, at least 38 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, including those exposed to fumes from a fire at a sulfur mine near Mosul, Iraq, have been diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis.  Many are blaming open-air burn pits as the most likely culprit for this condition.

For lack of a better phrase, burn pits are essentially dumpster fires.  Around the clock the military used these to incinerate waste ranging from plastics and Styrofoam to batteries, body parts, and ordinance and petroleum products.  The VA relies on a 2011 study that concluded there is not enough evidence to link burn pits with troops’ respiratory problems or other long-term health problems.  Despite this, Congress has directed the VA to develop a registry for veterans exposed to burn pit fumes and other airborne hazards to document their exposure and health issues.

Based on the number of troops that served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 38 with constrictive bronchiolitis is likely not enough to force the VA to acknowledge that it is presumptively related to serving there.  It may still be a question of how much of something did one have to be exposed to in order to get the condition.  The registry is a good first step, but that is only to get it presumptively related.  It does not mean that it could not be found related on a direct basis.

If you have constrictive bronchiolitis or any other condition that you believe is related to your service in the Middle East, please contact an experienced advocate at Veterans Help Group to discuss your claim.

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