DENVER (CBS4)- An increasing number of troops are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with serious lung diseases. The illnesses have been linked to dust, burning garbage pits and industrial fires.

One sick veteran from Centennial is happy he’s being taken seriously. Retired Major Scott Weakley, 47, spent 22 years in the Army. He believes he returned from the Middle East with a rare lung disease.

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“When I was over in Pakistan, Kuwait and Iraq, I was exposed to burn pits, sandstorms, oil refineries and IED blasts,” said Weakley. “Over half of my lungs were permanently scarred.”

Weakley suffers from “Constrictive Bronchiloitis.” He is taking several medications, and doctors said he will be on antibiotics for the rest of his life. His lung capacity is just 30 percent.

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When asked what the prognosis is, Weakley replied, “Not so good. Either premature death and/or a lung transplant.”

“I don’t think we know how big the problem is, whether this is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s a huge problem or really just a small number of people who are being affected,” said Dr. Cecile Rose at National Jewish Health.

Rose has a Defense Department grant to study affected veterans’ lung samples. It won’t change life for Weakley, but he’s happy something is being done.

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“The U.S. Army really hasn’t come to grips with what’s going on and I want the U.S. Army, I want others to know, that this is out there,” said Weakley.