Colorado veterans fighting for benefits after exposure to this generation’s ‘Agent Orange’

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DENVER -- Time can play tricks on the mind, especially at Fort Logan National Cemetery.

It's the resting place for thousands of lives taken too soon.

Master Sgt. Brad Badstibner is one of them. Badstibner was a son, a husband, and a father of three.

"He's like eternally 35 years old. That will never change. We're all getting older and he just stays that age forever," said Christie Badstibner, Brian's wife.

Badstibner wasn't killed in combat. The intelligence analyst was killed by the air he was breathing while stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq.

Badstibner is one of tens of thousands of veterans who were exposed to burn pits. Several hundred military installations worldwide have them.

The burn pits are used to by the military to get rid of waste. That includes everything from plane parts and medical waste, to batteries, and equipment.

"It was hard to breathe. It was always black smoke," Christie Badstibner said. "He started having problems when he came back from Balad, a lot of stomach issues where he stomach started hurting."

That stomach pain only grew worse in the months and years after Badstibner's deployment. Finally, in 2015, it became too much for him to bear so he went to a doctor.

That doctor told him not to worry.

"The doctor said it was heartburn, and I told him no, because he was white. I said this isn't right," said Christie.

Brian demanded to see a specialist. 48 hours later he was diagnosed with stage four cancer and was given six months to live.

"They took out a foot and a half of his colon. It was the size of a baseball," said Christie.

In January 2016, Badstibner lost his battle to cancer, leaving his wife Christie alone to raise their three little boys.

"They know when they find feathers in a jar that's their dad coming to visit them. Rainbows mean he's smiling. He's missed a lot of things. I wish he was here for the milestones we go through with the kids, like the first day of kindergarten, and being a teenager. My son's going to drive in a couple of years, and then graduate from high school," Christie said.

Brian Badstibner is just one of many veterans to pass away from burn pit related illnesses or cancers.

"Everybody's in the same situation as us, raising kids, young kids without dads," Christie said.

However, for widows like Christie, that's just half the battle. Almost 44 percent of burn pit related claims have been denied because the condition can't officially be connected to military service.

"How can you tell me it's not related? How can you say no? Because you don't want to pay out? It's all legalities and no one wants to take responsibility for any of that," Christie said.

That struggle for benefits has many calling burn pit exposure this generation's agent orange.

"I think it's a very, very fair comparison. I think it's right on the nose," said Sue Beams, Brian's mother.

"We all know when they go over there they sign their life away and if they die over there fighting, they die over there fighting, but if they come back they shouldn't die because they got cancer. They shouldn't be denied benefits because they got cancer over there," added Christie.

For widows like Christie and mothers like Sue, the battle continues. Both women are still fighting after their son and husband cannot.

"The more we hear about this, the more we talk about this, the more we tell, someone is going to listen," said Sue.

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