Disability benefits & chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Updated June 13, 2017

According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, more than 12 million people had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in March 2009. Long-term exposure to lung irritants like cigarette smoke, dust or pollution causes COPD. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. COPD gets worse over time. Treatment may include medications, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation programs, and in rare cases, lung surgery. No cure exists. Some people cannot work because of COPD, and need to seek disability benefits.

Social Security Disability Insurance

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) provides monthly income to people unable to work because of a serious medical condition such as COPD. To qualify, a person's symptoms must prevent them from working and must be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. Since COPD has no cure and generally gets worse over time, it usually meets this criterion. To qualify for SSDI, a person must also have worked a certain amount of time in the past. The amount of time depends on the person's age when he applies for SSDI. For instance, a 30-year-old only needs to have worked for two years. A 50-year-old must have worked for at least seven years.


Medicare provides health insurance for the elderly and disabled. If someone qualifies for SSDI, he will then qualify for Medicare in two years. It covers treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including inpatient hospital care, outpatient treatment and prescription drugs. It covers treatment for other conditions, as well. Recipients must pay a premium, but those with low incomes may qualify for assistance with those fees.

Supplemental Security Insurance

If someone does not qualify for SSDI because he has not worked enough in the past, he may qualify for Supplement Security Insurance (SSI). To qualify, a person must be unable to work due to a medical condition like COPD and his symptoms must be expected to last for at least one year or to result in death. In addition, he must have limited income and limited resources.

State Disability

Some states, but not all, have disability programs that provide income for some people with COPD. State disability programs usually consist of short-term assistance, not long-term help. People may benefit from state disability while they wait for their SSDI or SSI applications to be reviewed, which can take several months or longer. States with disability programs include California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. The criteria vary from state to state.

Short-Term Disability Insurance

Some people have short-term disability insurance policies, either through their employers or policies they bought. Coverage varies, but most cover short-term disability due to COPD.

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About the Author

Kelly Morris has been making a living as a writer since 2004. She attended the College of Mount St. Joseph with a major in social work and minor in women's studies. Her work has appeared in a number of print publications including Caregivers Home Companion, Midwifery Today and Guide.