What Is Bronchiectasis?

Bronchiectasis is a condition in which damage to the airways causes them to thicken, widen, and become scarred. This damage makes it difficult for the airways, also called bronchi and bronchioles, to carry air in and out of the lungs. Eventually, the airways slowly lose their ability to clear out mucus, causing it to build up and create a breeding ground for bacteria. This can lead to repeated, serious lung infections and inflammation. 

Some of the most common symptoms of bronchiectasis are:

  • A daily cough that occurs over months or years
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Daily production of large amounts of sputum
  • Clubbing (the flesh under fingernails and toenails gets thicker)

Bronchiectasis can lead to serious complications like respiratory failure or atelectasis (i.e. a collapsed lung), which is why it is important to get diagnosed early and begin treatment to prevent further lung damage. 

Among veterans, bronchiectasis is becoming increasingly more common due to the harsh environmental conditions many service members find themselves in on deployment. Exposure to burn pits, airborne environmental toxins, and explosions that can release harmful airborne particulates are all contributing factors. Veterans of the Gulf War era are at particular risk, with one recent study noting the increasing prevalence of chronic lung diseases among that group of veterans. 

How Does The VA Rate Bronchiectasis?

Under 38 CFR § 4.97, the VA rates bronchiectasis as follows:

Diagnostic Code 6601: Bronchiectasis

  • 100 – With incapacitating episodes of infection of at least six weeks total duration per year
  • 60 – With incapacitating episodes of infection of four to six weeks total duration per year, or; near constant findings of cough with purulent sputum associated with anorexia, weight loss, and frank hemoptysis and requiring antibiotic usage almost continuously
  • 30 – With incapacitating episodes of infection of two to four weeks total duration per year, or; daily productive cough with sputum that is at times purulent or blood-tinged and that requires prolonged (lasting four to six weeks) antibiotic usage more than twice a year
  • 10 – Intermittent productive cough with acute infection requiring a course of antibiotics at least twice a year

The VA can also rate bronchiectasis under the Diagnostic Code 6600 for chronic bronchitis depending on the type of pulmonary impairment caused by the condition.

Diagnostic Code 6600: Bronchitis, chronic

  • 100 – FEV-1 less than 40 percent of predicted value, or; the ratio of Forced Expiratory Volume in one second to Forced Vital Capacity (FEV-1/FVC) less than 40 percent, or; Diffusion Capacity of the Lung for Carbon Monoxide by the Single Breath Method (DLCO (SB)) less than 40-percent predicted, or; maximum exercise capacity less than 15 ml/kg/min oxygen consumption (with cardiac or respiratory limitation), or; cor pulmonale (right heart failure), or; right ventricular hypertrophy, or; pulmonary hypertension (shown by Echo or cardiac catheterization), or; episode(s) of acute respiratory failure, or; requires outpatient oxygen therapy
  • 60 – FEV-1 of 40- to 55-percent predicted, or; FEV-1/FVC of 40 to 55 percent, or; DLCO (SB) of 40- to 55-percent predicted, or; maximum oxygen consumption of 15 to 20 ml/kg/min (with cardiorespiratory limit)
  • 30 – FEV-1 of 56- to 70-percent predicted, or; FEV-1/FVC of 56 to 70 percent, or; DLCO (SB) 56- to 65-percent predicted
  • 10 – FEV-1 of 71- to 80-percent predicted, or; FEV-1/FVC of 71 to 80 percent, or; DLCO (SB) 66- to 80-percent predicted

If the VA grants a veteran a less than 100 percent schedular disability rating for his or her bronchiectasis, but the veteran is unable to work, he or she is eligible to receive a total disability based on individual unemployability (TDIU) rating. This rating would allow the veteran to receive compensation at the 100 percent rate even if his or her total schedular disability rating was less than 100, so long as the veteran is unable to follow a substantially gainful occupation.

Help With Your Bronchiectasis VA Claim

If you are veteran with bronchiectasis and are seeking assistance with your VA claim, our veterans disability attorneys are ready to help. We have experience getting service connection for veterans with bronchiectasis and can help you get the compensation you are entitled to. Please contact our office for more information and a free claim evaluation.