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Military & Veterans Lung Disease

This information was reviewed and approved by Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH (3/25/2024).

In the past few years, evidence has emerged that U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense (DoD) contractors who have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other sites in Southwest Asia may be at increased risk for developing respiratory symptoms and, in some cases, disabling chronic respiratory diseases including asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, emphysema and bronchiolitis. The causes of these lung diseases remain unknown, but may be related to exposure to hazardous chemicals and inhalation of small particles in the Southwest Asia environment.

Exposure Concerns

Military personnel deployed in Southwest Asia often are exposed to:

  • Iraq veteran Dr. Richard Meehan testing air quality in a dust storm in the Middle East.Open-air burn pits – burning or smoldering chemicals, metals, plastics and human waste

  • Desert dust and sandstorms

  • Industrial fires and emissions

  • Vehicular diesel exhaust

  • Jet fuels

  • Improvised explosive device (IED) blasts

  • Combat dust and debris

  • Temperature and humidity extremes in the desert climate

  • Workplace vapors, dusts, gases and fumes such as paints and solvents


Who is at Risk?

  • Current or former military personnel and government contractors who deployed since 2001 to Southwest Asia or other locations in the Sergeant First Class Health Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act,  including  Iraq, Kuwait, and Djibouti. 

Deployment-Related Respiratory Conditions

The full spectrum of deployment-related respiratory diseases (DRRDs) is unknown. Lung conditions that have been linked to deployment include:

How are these conditions diagnosed?

Medical evaluation is individualized. Testing may include:

Is there treatment?

Our team of medical providers and caregivers  in our Deployment-Related Lung Disease Center, will develop a personalized treatment approach for you based on your respiratory disease diagnosis and severity. We use the latest evidence-based information to establish a program of treatment and medical follow-up.  For some lung conditions like bronchiolitis, there are few available treatments that have been shown to work. Treatment for deployment-related lung disease is a major focus of our research program.

Patient Stories

John Sepulveda, C-130 Avionics Craftsman

Joining Forces To Fight Deployment-Related Lung Disease

John Sepulveda arrived in Afghanistan in 2011 in peak form and proud to serve in the Air Force. His role was crucial, and he didn’t want to let down his fellow airmen, or his country. So, when he got sick less than a month into his deployment, he decided to tough it out. “That was the worst thing I could have done,” said Sepulveda.