One of the many frustrating aspects of war for veterans is a disability that prevents them from working after returning home to civilian life. While prosthetics to replace limbs are getting better all the time and conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder are now more widely acknowledged as obstacles to successful employment, many diseases and injuries remain either unrecognized or ineligible for Social Security disability insurance.

Fortunately for veterans and currently enlisted members of the military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, one debilitating condition has been added to the Social Security Administration’s “compassionate allowances” list. Constrictive bronchiolitis, a lung disease found in veterans who have been exposed to burn pits and fires while stationed in those countries, causes narrowing or obstruction of the lung’s small airways as a result of scarring or fibrous issue.

Although the disease, which also goes by the names obliterative bronchiolitis and bronchiolitis obliterans, is considered rare among civilians, there are nearly 50 known cases among service members and hundreds more could be diagnosed. They most likely contracted the disease as a result of fires that burned toxic chemicals. One of these fires happened in a sulfur mine in Mosul, Iraq, in 2003, requiring service members to fight it. But many more veterans have been exposed while living and working next to open-air burn pits used to dispose of waste. The pits operated constantly, burning waste including plastics, Styrofoam, batteries, ordnance, petroleum products and even body parts.

An Army chief warrant officer diagnosed with the disease has had trouble working because he can’t walk more than three minutes without needing a rest break. Because he will be medically retired from the Army next month, he was relieved to hear about the admission of constrictive bronchiolitis to the list. But he’s also glad for the sake of the dozens of other service members already diagnosed, and the many more who will come home from war zones out of breath and out of a job.

Veterans suffering from medical conditions that may not be recognized or understood by someone sitting miles away in a disability insurance claims office can count this new inclusion as a victory, but there are many more who need help seeking benefits because they’re unable to work. They may be able to benefit from consulting an attorney who knows the SSDI claims process and can help them navigate it while they strive to resume a normal, healthy lifestyle.

Source: Army Times, “Lung disease put on list for faster benefits,” Patricia Kime, Aug. 11, 2012

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