The investigation centers around several surveys suggesting vets returning home from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have a doubled risk of suffering from severe respiratory diseases than veterans who are stationed outside of Southwest Asia.
Ret. Army Maj. Scott Weakley, who served for 22 years, is suffering from constrictive bronchiolitis.
Prior to his year of combined service in Iraq and Afghanistan, Weakley served on numerous special missions and deployments. Throughout his career, he was an avid runner, racing in several marathons.
When he returned from his final deployment, he was unable to run even half a mile or play with his children without running out of breath.
The reason, according to doctors, is that with his lung disorder, his two lungs are functioning as just half of one. Small airways in his lungs are damaged, constricted and scarred. They are not responding well to medication.
"It isn't like you're in a Humvee, where you can name the date, time and route you were on. With these post-deployment lung disorders veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are getting, we don't know [where they are coming from]," Weakley said.
Dr. Cecile Rose, principle researcher of the study at National Jewish Health, believes the higher rate of illness for soldiers deployed in the Middle East is due to exposure to burn pits, desert dust and extreme humidity. The illnesses also include deployment-related asthma.
"People are coming back with an inability to pass the physical fitness requirements that the military has," Rose said. "They went into deployment very fit, and came back with severe problems relating to shortness of breath, preventing them from passing the test."
More than 2 million Americans have been deployed and exposed to air in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the research urgent and finding a cure for the illnesses, called Deployment-Related Lung Diseases, all the more critical to the lives of those who have served.
Weakley shares his story in hopes increased awareness will lead to more funding, and potentially, a cure or prevention for Deployment-Related Lung Diseases.
"What I'm doing and trying to do, I realize it might not help me," Weakley, who will likely need a lung transplant in the near-future, said. "I'm at peace with that. If by speaking out, we're getting funding to help those guys just getting diagnosed, for me, all of this is worth it."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)