Center of Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease

Iraq veteran Dr. Richard Meehan testing air quality in a dust storm in the Middle East.

As a nation, we depend upon our military personnel to defend us against serious threats to our freedom and well-being. Sadly, many who survive their deployment and return to the United States are left with considerable disabilities, including lung injury and diseases. One survey suggests that war fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer asthma, bronchiolitis and other severe respiratory diseases at about twice the rate of veterans stationed elsewhere. 

These conditions can cause tremendous individual suffering and cost the nation billions of dollars in lost wages, veterans benefits compensation and health care costs. Suspected causes are environmental exposures to garbage burn pits, dust storms, industrial emissions and fires. The long-term health consequences of these exposures remain largely unidentified, and current treatment options are limited and often rely on standard clinical practices that may not be optimal for these disabled soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen, who were fit and vigorous before deployment.

Since 2001, over 2 million United States military men and women have deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In the past few years, evidence has emerged that U.S. military personnel who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan may be at increased risk for developing lung symptoms and, in some cases, disabling chronic lung diseases including asthma and constrictive bronchiolitis. The causes of their lung diseases remain unknown, but may be related to exposure to dangerous chemicals and inhalation of small fragments of substances in the Southwest Asia environment.

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Doctors at National Jewish Health, in close collaboration with the Department of Defense, are trying to discover the cause. “Unfortunately, we don't have enough information to know precisely what’s causing the increase in respiratory symptoms in people who are deployed,” said Cecile Rose, MD, MPH, Director of the newly created National Jewish Health Center of Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease.

Richard Meehan, MD, FACP, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology and an Iraq veteran, and Dr. Rose have established a program to provide clinical care and to conduct clinical and translational research aimed at understanding the respiratory effects of toxic exposures to military personnel incurred during overseas deployment, particularly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

This new program focuses on diagnosing and treating lung conditions related to deployment in Southwest Asia. In the future, Drs. Rose and Meehan also hope to build a registry and biorepository of specimens from these veterans and use the specimens to conduct research into prevention and treatment of potential deployment-related lung diseases, including blast-related acute lung injury as well as bronchiolitisasthma, pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis, and lung cancer.

This translational research program is designed to:

  • Prevent deployment-related lung disease by understanding the cause, biology and susceptibility of the disease

  • Develop biomarkers and targeted therapies for identifying and treating deployment-related lung disease in its earliest stages

  • Develop personalized approaches for treatment of individual service men and women and U.S. government and non-governmental employees supporting the war effort

  • Improve the respiratory health of military personnel returning from deployment regionally and nationally through training and outreach

  • Continue our research leadership and partnership with the Department of Defense by developing and testing new ways to protect troops from contracting lung disease while at war.


In the News

Rep. Diana DeGette is co-sponsoring the “Helping Veterans Exposed to Toxic Chemicals Act”.

Dr. Cecile Rose speaks to Colorado Public Radio.


Contact Information

Catie Stroup
Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences
1400 Jackson St.
Denver, CO 80218


If you would like to schedule an appointment, please call 1.877.CALL NJH (877.225.5654).