Washington, D.C. —Last week, the House and Senate agreed to the final version of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes a key provision championed by U.S. Representative Stephen F. Lynch (MA-08) and U.S. Representative Mark Green (R-TN).  The measure requires the Department of Defense to conduct an epidemiological study on the toxic hazards that more than 15,000 servicemembers and veterans were exposed to while deployed to Karshi-Khanabad (K2)—a former Soviet air base in Uzbekistan—between 2001 and 2005. Reportedly, the Soviet base had been formerly used to destroy nuclear weapons and contained various toxic substances. To date, K2 veterans have reported 491 cancers and hundreds of other health conditions they believe are connected to their service at K2.  This key provision was first introduced in February 2020 by Rep. Lynch and Rep. Green as H.R. 5957, the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020.

“I am very pleased to see this important part of the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act included in the final version of the NDAA” said Rep. Lynch.  “K2 veterans and servicemembers were among the first boots on the ground after the September 11, 2001, attacks.  Now, as many of these brave men and women are battling devastating health conditions, they are asking for our support in return. The Department of Defense’s study will assist them in this effort, and I thank my colleague Rep. Mark Green for his support and work on this bill.  While this is an important step, we must continue to fight for these American patriots who risked their lives for our country and work to ensure they and their families receive the health care, benefits and respect they have earned.” 

“As a conferee representing the House Homeland Security Committee to the 2020 NDAA Conference Committee, I was honored today to sign the final version of the National Defense Authorization Act that will be passed and sent to the President,” said Rep. Green.  “I’m proud that my legislation on K2 veterans' toxic exposure made it into the bill. It’s a partial step forward. I will continue to fight for a strong military and to ensure our warriors and their families are cared for when they return. It’s been an honor to serve on the Conference Committee.”

As Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Lynch has led a bipartisan investigation, including holding two hearings in February and November, to address the health concerns of K2 veterans.  This investigation has revealed new information showing that the men and women who deployed to K2 were exposed to multiple harmful toxins and environmental hazards, including jet fuels and volatile organic compounds, depleted uranium, burn pits, particulate matter, and other cancer-causing chemicals.  

Despite this evidence, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to deny that a service connection exists between the health conditions of these veterans and their service, and has not granted presumptive status and service-connected benefits to veterans who deployed to K2.

The bipartisan, bicameral NDAA provides authorization of appropriations for America’s defense programs and policies. Last month, Rep. Lynch was named a conferee to the NDAA for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and signed the final version of the NDAA on December 3rd, 2020.  The NDAA is expected to pass the House and the Senate and be signed into law by the President imminently.