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Army finds no specific cause for Afghan and Iraq War respiratory problems

A veteran salutes as a limousine passes by carrying the family of U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen to St. Johns cemetery for his burial on June 24, 2014, in Mokena, Illinois.
A veteran salutes as a limousine passes by carrying the family of U.S. Army Pfc. Aaron Toppen to St. Johns cemetery for his burial on June 24, 2014, in Mokena, Illinois. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The first consecutive study of the increasing number of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have complained of asthma and respiratory problems can find no specific cause of the ailment. A group of thirteen United Stated Armed Forces physicians led by Dr. Michael J. Morris of the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas performed the evaluation. The study was reported in the July 1, 2104, edition of the journal American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study followed a racially and sexually diverse group of 50 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that had complained of asthma and breathing difficulties after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan and during service in both countries. The study was based on routine physical evaluations that are an armed force's practice and a specially defined regimen of tests performed on each individual to access their respiratory health. This is not the first study of the problem but it is the first that tracks people over time to determine if exposure to dust could be the cause.

The results indicate that no specific diagnosis was possible in 42 percent of the veterans. No evidence of cancer or COPD was verified by the investigation. The study concludes that the symptoms exhibited by returning veterans may be an excitation of previous asthma or breathing difficulties. The report notes that the majority of the test group had mental health and sleep disorders.

In the past one might have accepted this report at face value. However, considering the ongoing investigation of the Veterans Administration’s lack of proper care of veterans one may be suspicious of the lack of specificity in the results. While the analysis was thorough and apparently complete one has to wonder if this is another instance of pushing the problem down the road until the storm in Washington blows over.

One could be suspicious of the release of this report so near to Independence Day. The report contains a caveat that eliminates the endorsement of the results by the United States Army and Government. The Army could be treating this ailment like it did post traumatic stress disorder in Vietnam veterans.