Reps. Lynch And Green Introduce Bill Holding DOD And VA Accountable For Veterans’ Toxic Exposure

Feb 27, 2020 Issues: Committee on Oversight and Reform, National Security

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, and U.S. Representative Mark Green (R-TN) introduced H.R. 5957, the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020, which directs the Secretary of Defense to assess the toxic exposure of American military servicemembers deployed to Karshi Khanabad Air Base (K2) in Uzbekistan from 2001 to 2005 and address the health conditions caused by this exposure.  H.R. 5957 would also direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a registry of U.S. servicemembers who may have been exposed to toxic substances while deployed to the K2 Air Base.

In a 2015 study conducted by the U.S. Army, servicemembers who deployed to K2 were found to be more than five times as likely to develop cancer than their counterparts deployed to South Korea. Since the study, it is estimated that the number of veterans suffering from cancer and other serious medical conditions has increased dramatically, and servicemembers have died potentially due to this exposure.  To date, the VA has not acknowledged a causal relationship between deployment to K2 and a subsequent cancer diagnosis.  

“I am deeply troubled by reports of U.S. servicemembers and special operations forces who have been exposed to chemical and radioactive contamination at the K2 base without their knowledge,” said Rep. Lynch.  “The United States has a collective duty to take care of our veterans after they serve our country and I want to make sure that our men and women in uniform will have complete access to the necessary care and treatment.  I’d like to thank my colleague Rep. Mark Green for his shared concern on this critical issue and making it a priority to ensure our veterans receive the proper healthcare and benefits they deserve.” 

“The brave men and women who served our country with courage are now facing cancer and life-threatening illnesses from toxic exposure at K2,” said Rep Green.  “From severely harmful chemicals like Agent Orange in Vietnam to the burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, our soldiers continue to face toxic exposure as they protect and defend our Nation. The federal government waited far too long in the past to acknowledge these issues, and it was shameful that our government let troops’ conditions go by unaddressed. We aren’t going to let that happen again. We must address this and do it now; it is our duty.”

Green continued, “I am grateful to Rep. Lynch, Chairman of our Committee on Oversight and Reform’s National Security Subcommittee, for his collaboration on this bill and his dedication to this issue on the Committee. Our bill directs the Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to study what happened at K2, create a registry for those who were exposed, and determine the presumptive conditions qualifying veterans for immediate VA care and compensation. The DOD and VA must act decisively to address this toxic exposure and show our veterans the honor and respect of a grateful Nation.”

Shortly after September 11, 2001, U.S. forces were deployed to K2, a former Soviet base, because of its close proximity to al Qaeda and Taliban targets in northern Afghanistan. Nearly 7,000 U.S. troops were deployed there from 2001-2005.  The radioactive and lethal chemical conditions at K2 reportedly stemmed from depleted uranium, chemical weapons, and fuels and solvents which manifested as “black goo” oozing from the ground.

According to one retired special forces officer:  “After returning from combat years later, we are all coming down with various forms of cancer that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] is refusing to acknowledge.”  A retired U.S. Air Force veteran stated that this treatment felt like a betrayal and that “nobody wants to help with it.”  

Last month, Subcommittee Chairman Lynch and Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney launched an investigation and requested information from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the VA about potential contamination at K2 and related adverse health effects of U.S. personnel who served there.  

A graduate of West Point and Army Special Operations Flight Surgeon, Rep. Green has introduced several pieces of legislation to help veterans and their families, including the Protecting Gold Star Spouses Act and the Protecting Gold Star Children Act, and has cosponsored legislation addressing toxic exposure, including the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act and the Burn Pits Accountability Act.