Hundreds of those veterans had sued the military contracting giant KBR, Inc., but lost first in U.S. district court and then again last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The 4th Circuit said KBR was under U.S. military direction when it burned tires and medical waste next to soldiers' barracks, and can't be held liable.
"America has turned its back on its war heroes. It's disgusting," said Rosie Torres, whose husband Leroy was a plaintiff in the case.
Leroy Torres served in the Army Reserve for 23 years. In 2007 he was stationed at Balad Air Base in Iraq, a city-sized military installation that produced tons of garbage.
KBR had a contract with the U.S. military to dispose of that trash,. Torres, like many service members, was breathing the smoke from the massive open burn pit.
By the time he came home in 2008 Torres needed immediate hospitalization for what turned out to be lung disease.
"As a husband, a father and a first responder, I have been deprived of my dignity, honor and health," Torres told a congressional hearing last June.
"I returned home from war to face a health care system that failed me and an employer too afraid to understand an uncommon war injury resulting in termination of my law enforcement career," he said — "subsequently facing foreclosure, while at the same time receiving VA denial letters for compensation for illnesses still not recognized by VA."