Nearly 25 million Americans (7.8%) have asthma, and just under 16 million (6.4%) have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). By all indications, the burden is even higher among active-duty service members and veterans, and the prevalence is expected to increase in those populations.
Exposure to irritants and hazardous materials during service seems to be a contributing factor. High rates of tobacco use in both activity-duty service members and veterans remain a significant factor. In addition, soldiers who deployed to Iraq were diagnosed with asthma more often than soldiers who stayed in the U.S., and the asthma prevalence among military personnel deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq tripled between 2002 and 2011. One in 7 deployed military personnel reported chronic respiratory problems compared with 10% of nondeployed service members, and 95% of deployed veterans reported at least 1 potentially hazardous exposure. It’s little wonder that 6% of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who received VA care between 2002 and 2011 had 1 or more chronic pulmonary conditions.
Although preventable and treatable, worldwide COPD mortality is increasing. Moreover, prevalence of COPD is projected to increase more than 30% in the next 10 years without interventions to reduce risks. The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease now recommends that any patient with dyspnea, chronic cough, sputum production, or other risks factors should be examined for a potential COPD diagnosis.