Scores of Veterans Facing Chronic Lung Disease
Most insidious is a rare disease called constrictive bronchiolitis. It is the obstruction and fibrosis of the distal airways or bronchioles and generally a rare condition among the young population. What makes CB tricky is that it’s also undetectable through X-rays or pulmonary function exams. One Nashville-area Army vet, who retired a few years ago after two tours in Iraq, told the Army Times after coming home that he was so easily fatigued that “I could hardly mow my yard.”
It turned out this Veteran was indeed suffering from constrictive bronchiolitis, and he is hardly alone. From 2005 to 2009, 80 soldiers coming back from southwest Asia to Fort Campbell, KY, were dispatched to Nashville’s Vanderbilt University for respiratory evaluations. Most tested negative initially, and it was not until a lung biopsy was performed that it was revealed close to half the soldiers had CB.
Some two million service members have been deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan (both in some cases) since 2001. And given the disastrous environmental conditions the troops face all day and all night in either place, it is not surprising respiratory diseases are rampant. The asthma occurrence rate among these troops is about 15 percent, far more than deployed elsewhere.
There are several factors. One of them is open-air burn pits, where soldier waste and other material are incinerated, sending toxins into the air. Desert dust, a calling card of the harsh environment, also exposes troops to all kinds of airborne fires. Industrial fires, which release sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide via burning oil, are known to cause CB.
Cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke are also in the picture. The Department of Defense estimates around one-third of US military members smoke, much lower than the civilian population. Put all of these factors together, and it is a small wonder why the Veterans are facing a respiratory nightmare.