Bipartisan Subcommittee Effort Prompts Department of Veterans Affairs to Conduct Uzbekistan Air Base Health Study
Washington, D.C. (Apr. 27, 2020)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, and Committee Member Mark Green issued the following statements after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) confirmed it will conduct a new health study to examine whether U.S. servicemembers and veterans who deployed to Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan after September 11, 2001, are more likely to experience adverse health effects.
“Following the attacks on 9/11, the men and women who served at Karshi-Khanabad in Uzbekistan were among the first to deploy in the Global War on Terrorism,” said Chairman Lynch. “As a nation, we have a solemn duty to investigate and resolve the many reports of their exposure to toxic and radioactive substances during their deployments. Our Subcommittee and the legislation we introduced moved the Department of Veterans Affairs to take action, and I look forward to continuing our critical oversight work to ensure K2 servicemembers and their families receive the healthcare they need and the disability benefits they deserve.”
“It’s long past time to address veterans’ toxic exposure at K2 Air Base, and the VA has taken a positive step forward in response to the Subcommittee’s investigation and my legislation with Chairman Lynch by committing to doing a health study on K2 for the very first time,” 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.”
On April 22, 2020, after the Subcommittee launched an investigation into the health risks associated with K2, VA confirmed that it is now taking multiple steps to address the concerns of K2 servicemembers and veterans, including:
- VA is designing a new study to investigate health trends among K2 Veterans. This study will be a follow-up from a 2015 Army Public Health Center (APHC) assessment, which preliminarily found that veterans who served at K2 were more than five times more likely to be diagnosed with a certain type of cancer than a cohort in South Korea.
- VA expects the new study to improve on the 2015 APHC assessment by examining a broader range of health outcomes (rather than cancer alone), and comparing health data with Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom servicemembers and veterans who were not deployed to K2.
- When the study is complete, VA will “share the findings with Veterans who served at K2 in several ways,” including through a website, letters, and social media. VA also has contacted providers who participate in its Environmental Health Clinics and Registry programs so they are aware of the potential health risks associated with K2.
- VA has created a page on its website that includes basic information for K2 veterans who are concerned about potential exposures. The website is available here.
On January 13, 2020, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney and Subcommittee Chairman Lynch sent letters to the Department of Defense (DOD) and VA requesting information about press reports that servicemembers and special operations forces who deployed to K2 after September 11, 2001, were exposed to cancer-causing hazards.
On February 27, 2020, the Subcommittee held a hearing with two veterans who were previously deployed to K2 and have each suffered from cancer, as well as the spouse of another K2 veteran.
That same day, Chairman Lynch and Rep. Green 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 servicemembers deployed to K2 from 2001 to 2005 and address the health conditions caused by this exposure.
On March 5, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney, Chairman Lynch, National Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody B. Hice, former Rep. Mark Meadows, and Rep. Green sent letters to DOD and VA to press both agencies for information as part of the Committee’s investigation.
The VA’s April 22, 2020, response to the Committee can be found here.