You’ll never forget the hacking and coughing when you were deployed in the Persian Gulf. The days may have been filled with danger, but the nights were always spent trying to breathe—and you never fully recovered your lung capacity when you came home. Could you still be owed disability benefits if the dust and smoke gave you a permanent breathing problem?

Iraq War Veterans May Qualify for VA Disability for Lasting Breathing Problems

Veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have suffered many ill health effects due to breathing in pollution, sand, smoke, dust, and particulate matter. Depending on the length of exposure and the chemical makeup of the particles in the air, soldiers may suffer anything from irritation of the eyes and throat to aggravated coughing, wheezing, and an inability to catch his or her breath.

Iraq War veterans are especially likely to develop breathing problems due to:

  • Particulate matter. Pollution in Iraq and Afghanistan have a high degree of particulate matter. Dust storms, vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and other natural and artificial particles can aggravate the lungs and cause inflammation of many bodily tissues.
  • Burn pits. Burn pits produce higher concentrations of chemicals and dangerous particles, and were widely used in military sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many different kinds of materials have been burned in these pits for waste disposal, including munitions, paint, plastic, rubber, Styrofoam, petroleum, and even medical and human waste. Smoke allows the chemical residue to permeate the air and travel great distances, placing soldiers at risk of inhaling minuscule drops of soil, poisons, acids, metals, or other toxic materials.
  • Sulfur fire. Service members who were present when a fire ignited at the Mishraq State Sulfur Mine Plant near Mosul, Iraq in June 2003 are at increased risk for breathing difficulties. The fire, which burned for nearly a month, increased hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide into the air at levels deemed dangerous to health and life. Health effects from sulfur dioxide exposure range from irritation of the nose, throat, and eyes to burns on the surface of the skin, airway obstruction, hypoxia, and pulmonary edema.

It does not matter if you previously suffered from a breathing problem before your deployment. Under VA statues, soldiers who have suffered aggravation of an underlying medical condition while they were stationed overseas may still be considered disabled. However, you will have to prove that your current condition is linked to your military service in order to be awarded benefits. Contact Cuddigan Law today or download a free copy of our book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims, to begin building your case.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska