The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Do Veterans Develop Lung Diseases While Deployed?
When I hear the words “occupational lung disease”, I think of a scene from the movie October Sky when the miners are coming up the elevator from the coalmine; their faces are covered in coal dust and they are hacking into their hands. I don’t see the face of a veteran. Maybe that has more to do with my predisposition to think of veterans as immortal beings sent to protect us, not susceptible to illness or the common cold. However, according to the Veteran’s Administration (VA), over 14 percent of veterans that are deployed develop lung disease. Given that since 2004 the Department of Defense disqualified soldiers from enlistment if they had a lung disease, this means that a large percentage of these soldiers are developing these diseases during their time in service.
The Stats on Vets with Occupational Lung Disease
The statistics about veterans with occupational lung disease speak for themselves:
- Veterans are 4 percent more likely to develop lung disease than civilians.
- Over 6 percent of all veterans that served in Iraq and Afghanistan sought treatment for a lung condition.
- The VA tested 80 soldiers returning from combat for chronic bronchitis between 2005 and 2009. Of those tested, 45 percent developed the disease and 66 percent of those diagnosed had never smoked.
Iraq and Afghanistan
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan presented a large number of irritants to the soldiers that served there:
- Burn pits, the burring of trash using jet fuel, exposed thousands of soldiers to air pollution.
- Improvised explosives threw harmful metals and chemicals into the air.
- Dust from sand storms exposed soldiers to irritants that could lead to silicosis.
- The desert is also prone to outdoor aeroallergens from the date palm.
Treating Veterans with Occupational Lung Disease
The VA is obviously offering treatment options to the men and woman that served and are suffering from occupational lung disease, but what type of treatment are they offering? Acute forms of these diseases, or those that are not ongoing, can be treated with medication and bronchodilators. However, diseases like chronic bronchitis and emphysema are progressive and incurable. The current practice is to continue people suffering from these disease on a regiment of medication that eventually leads to supplemental oxygen. Medication may help slow disease progression, but they won’t return lung function. This has led some veterans to seek out stem cell therapy for their occupational lung disease.
Stem Cells for Vets with Lung Disease
Physicians harvest stem cells through a minimally invasive procedure, isolate them and reintroduce them to the lungs. The result is healthier tissue growing in place of damaged tissue, and although this doesn’t cure the disease, it slows lung degeneration and brings a normal life back within reach.