They called it "Iraqi crud," Marine Corps veteran Patrick Keplinger remembers.
When he was deployed in Iraq in 2004 and 2006, toxic smoke emanating from the "burn pits" that U.S. forces use to destroy everything from plastics and batteries to medical waste and animal carcasses seeped into where his unit lived, worked and ate.
"When I first got to Iraq, we got sick, they told us it was part of the process. Huge big plumes of smoke sat heavy in the air," he said. "It just became part of the scenery."
Keplinger, who now works as a field representative for Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, is one of thousands of veterans who believe that their health has been affected by exposure to burn pits and have struggled to convince the Department of Defense and the Veterans Health Administration to take action.