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Center of Excellence for Deployment-Related Lung Disease

Meehan in a dust storm

Since 2001, more than 3 million United States military personnel and contractors have deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other sites in Southwest Asia. In-theatre exposure to open-air burn pits, sandstorms, combat dust, diesel exhaust, and other workplace hazards may place deployers at risk for disabling respiratory symptoms and lung diseases.

The Center for Deployment-Related Lung Disease at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado, is focused on the diagnosis and treatment of active military personnel, veterans, and contractors with lung conditions related to their mission. We also conduct research to understand the causes of deployment-related lung disease, identify new and better diagnostic tools, develop better treatment, and look for ways to prevent these disabling diseases.

Pictured: Richard Meehan, MD, co-director of the Center of Excellence for Deployment-Related Lung Disease, tests for heavy metals in the air at Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.

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The PACT Act

In 2022, mass media coverage raised awareness about the PACT Act, or The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022. The legislation expanded health care and benefits for veterans by recognizing that toxins encountered while deployed can lead to health problems. “This was based, in part, on our medical and scientific research at National Jewish Health,” said Cecile Rose, MD, MPH, director of the Center of Excellence on Deployment-Related Lung Disease.

Air Force veteran John Sepulveda said, “It is a game changer. Service members will no longer have to jump through hoops to get the care and benefits they need. Those of us who have been permanently disabled can medically retire from the military, keep our health care and receive some retirement income. For me, it means I don’t have to fear that my family will lose our house when my salary from my civilian job is docked because my lung disease requires more sick time than is provided.”