OEF/OIF Vets Have High Rates of Exposures

by U.S. Medicine

March 10, 2017

WASHINGTON — Recent U.S. veterans have high rates of potentially harmful environmental exposures which are linked to an increased likelihood of respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

The study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine sought to determine the between respiratory exposures and respiratory disease among veterans deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) compared with nondeployed veterans of this era; between respiratory exposures and respiratory disease among veterans deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) compared with nondeployed veterans of this era; between respiratory exposures and respiratory disease among veterans deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) compared with nondeployed veterans of this era; and association between respiratory exposures and pulmonary disease among veterans deployed to Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) compared with nondeployed veterans of the same era.1

The research, led by the VA’s Post-Deployment Health Epidemiology Program, analyzed national health survey responses from about 20,000 veterans supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 13,000 veterans were deployed and 7,000 were nondeployed.

Results indicated that both groups had high rates of potentially hazardous respiratory exposures, including dust and sand, burning trash, petrochemical fumes, oil fires or industrial pollution. In fact, at least one of the exposures was reported by 95% of deployed veterans and 70% of nondeployed veterans. In terms of high exposure—defined as exposure to at least 3 out of 5—that was reported by 70% of deployed and 24% of nondeployed veterans.

The study found that veterans with any respiratory exposure were more likely to have asthma, sinusitis or bronchitis. It also noted that 23% of deployed veterans and 28% of nondeployed veterans with any respiratory exposure reported those diseases.

Study authors pointed to a “dose-response” relationship—veterans with more exposures had higher odds of respiratory disease—and that the associations remained significant, even after accounting for smoking.

“Respiratory exposures should be considered a hazard of military service, in general, not solely deployment,” the researchers wrote, suggesting further research to determine if there is a causal relationship between respiratory exposures and diseases in veterans.

  1. Barth SK, Dursa EK, Bossarte R, Schneiderman A. Lifetime Prevalence of Respiratory Diseases and Exposures Among Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom Veterans: Results From the National Health Study for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans. J Occup Environ Med. 2016 Dec;58(12):1175-1180. PubMed PMID: 27930474.

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