After serving their country, many veterans face long-term health challenges but sometimes symptoms may not appear for decades and aren’t quickly recognized, aggravating their condition.
The lung disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an example that’s disproportionately affecting veterans. COPD is now the fourth most common diagnosis among veterans. Approximately 15 percent of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs heath care users are affected with COPD. Veterans are also three times more likely than civilians to develop the respiratory condition.
COPD is a respiratory disease that makes breathing difficult. Tightness in the chest, breathlessness and persistent cough are the hallmark symptoms, but many people with COPD mistake a feeling of breathlessness as just a sign of aging, and often symptoms increase over a period of years. As many as 80% of people with COPD in the general population have moderate to severe COPD by the time they are diagnosed.
Recent studies have found there has been an uptick in respiratory diseases, including COPD among veterans, especially those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the disease goes largely unrecognized by caregivers and healthcare providers alike, according to a study by the Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S.
“We encourage veterans to keep a list of questions and observations about their breathing to bring up with their physician, which will aid in the development of a treatment plan.”
One of the key aspects of managing COPD is recognizing symptoms early and taking a proactive approach with your healthcare professional. “While COPD affects veterans disproportionately, it is a treatable condition,” says Jay Peters, MD, FCCP, CHEST Foundation Leader. “We encourage veterans to keep a list of questions and observations about their breathing to bring up with their physician, which will aid in the development of a treatment plan.”
Due to the increased risk for veterans, Dr. Mannino, Pulmonologist and Medical Expert at GSK, recommends they make it a point to talk to their doctor when they are having trouble with their breathing.
What is COPD?
COPD is a chronic lung disease brought on by occupational dust or chemicals, smoking or secondhand smoke, and exposure to air pollution. In some cases, people develop COPD due to genetic factors passed down through families. COPD includes two lung problems:
- Chronic bronchitis – coughing and mucous production due to inflammation of the airways over a period of several years
- Emphysema – damage to air sacs in the lungs or collapse of the miniscule breathing pathways in the lungs
For a full list of symptoms and to learn more about COPD, visit www.copd.com.
 COPD Foundation. Honoring Our Veterans. Retrieved from: https://www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/Blog/Article/331/Honoring-our-Veterans.aspx (accessed on 2017, November 8)
 Mapel, D.W., Dalal, A.A., Blanchette, C.M., Petersen, H., Ferguson, G.T. (2011). Severity of COPD at initial spirometry-confirmed diagnosis: data from medical charts and administrative claims. International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2016, May 23). Study finds uptick in lung disease in recent Veterans. Retrieved from: https://www.research.va.gov/currents/0516-3.cfm (accessed on 2017, November 8)
 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (2014, August 26). Study: Iraq, Afghanistan Veterans at increased risk of respiratory illness. Retrieved from: https://www.research.va.gov/currents/summer2014/summer2014-24.cfm (accessed on 2017, November 8)
 Murphy, D.E., Chaudhry, Z., Almoosa, K.F., Panos, R.J. (2011, May). High Prevalence of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Among Veterans in the Urban Midwest. Retrieved from: http://militarymedicine.amsus.org/doi/pdf/10.7205/MILMED-D-10-00377 (accessed on 2017, November 8)
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, August 4). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/copd/index.html (accessed on 2017, November 8)