Iraq/Afghanistan Vets and Respiratory Illness

Kristina Derro
Veterans Disability Lawyer


Although our troops are already in enough danger being overseas in hostile areas, they now have a new hidden threat to their health, respiratory illness.

A recent medical study has found thatUnited Statesmilitary personnel and civilian contractors deployed toIraqandAfghanistanmay be at risk for chronic lung disease, including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis (CB). The study showed that ‘deployers’ experienced respiratory symptoms at a 4% higher rate than non-deployers, despite physician-diagnosed asthma and chronic bronchitis remaining equal.

Kalie VonFeldt, Maura Robinson, and Cecil Rose, the medical professionals in charge of the study, targeted four factors in explaining this health risk:

Desert Dust: With the rapidly degrading soils and the frequent dust storms, lead and other metals typically found in desert dust are in sizes small enough to penetrate the small airways of our troops’ lungs.

Burn Pits: The Department of Defense estimates the average American soldier generates 9 to 12 pounds of waste per day; all of which is typically disposed of in open air burn pits.

Industrial Fires: Burning oil and other industrial compounds typically release hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide. Both of these oxides of sulfur are known causes of CB.

Cigarette Smoking and Secondhand Smoke: Recent studies have shown almost 1/3 of U.S. Troops smoke cigarettes while deployed. While those that do smoke harm themselves by choice, the other 66% are subject to high levels of secondhand smoke.

Taken together, these factors could be the explanation of the 14.5% asthma rate in Iraq/Afghanistan deployed troops, compared to the 1.8% of troops deployed elsewhere. Although further study will be needed to see the exact effects of the aforementioned factors, these numbers certainly suggest the medical community is pointed in the right direction.

To learn more or see the original study, please visit:

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