Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an umbrella term for a series of respiratory disorders that prevent proper breathing. The most common COPD conditions are asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis. These conditions can occur separately, together, or in combination with other impairments. Although treatable, COPD is an especially dangerous diagnosis in the era of COVID-19, and severe symptoms could prevent you from working a full-time job.
To evaluate COPD for disability benefits under the Social Security program, you must have medical evidence supporting your diagnosis and limitations. Acceptable medical evidence includes spirometry testing or other lung function tests; arterial blood gas analysis; imaging studies such as chest x-rays, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); or a detailed statement from your medical provider describing your medical condition.
Social Security Administration will examine objective medical findings of your respiratory disorder to see if they meet or equal Listings 3.02 or 3.03, which are basically shortcuts to getting disability benefits. If your impairment does not meet a listing, they will typically restrict you to jobs that do not require concentrated exposure to dust, odors, fumes, or pulmonary irritants. At a hearing, a vocational expert is likely to testify that there are a substantial number of jobs in the national economy which meet those conditions. However, if your symptoms are so severe that you require additional breaks, most vocational experts will say that condition is job preclusive.
Keep in mind that it is not up to the vocational expert or your medical providers to declare you disabled under the Social Security Act. Ultimately, a finding of disability is reserved to the Commissioner, who may impart that authority to an administrative law judge (ALJ). The ALJ must consider the evidence in its entirety, including medical findings, vocational factors, prior administrative determinations, and, if warranted, your testimony at a hearing.