NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Veterans are fighting for health and disability benefits after they were sickened at U.S. Military bases by breathing toxic air.

They enlisted to serve our country in the global war on terror, and now they claim our country has let them down, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday.

Sgt. Rigoberto Rosario of Lynbrook was in stellar health when he volunteered to serve in Iraq.

But, he came home with debilitating asthma, which he says undoubtedly came from toxic air.

“I have the highest asthma… the worst of the worst,” Sgt. Rosario told Gusoff.

Rosario is one of 3.5 million veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond exposed to air poisons, largely from the use of open air burn pits on military bases.

“They were burning medical waste, plastics, human waste, clothing, electronics. All of that with jet fuel so that it would burn seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” said U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Veterans ill or dying of cancers and lung disease are now finding claims for VA health and disability benefits denied, unless they can prove a direct link to the burn pits.

Sen. Gillibrand said the link is undeniable. She wants the burden of proof removed.

“This is the cost of war. The VA must cover it,” she said.

Advocate John Feal, from the FealGood Foundation, says it’s like the situations with Agent Orange and the fumes at Ground Zero.

“To be poisoned by our own government… I want to say sorry that your government let you down,” Feal said.

A registry enables vets to document exposure, but the Department of Veterans Affairs denied claims of 80% of those who applied.

Sgt. Rosario’s health claims have been continually denied.

The agency said it evaluates on “a case-by-case basis.”

“I’m angry. I’m upset. I’m disappointed,” Sgt. Rosario said.

Feals said he will head to Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day to challenge the humanity of members of Congress. He said his goal is attain health and disability coverage before more veterans die.

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