National Security Subcommittee Chairman Lynch Testifies at House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing on Bipartisan K2 Legislation

May 5, 2021
Press Release

Washington, D.C. (May 5, 2021)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about his bipartisan bill, H.R. 1355, the K2 Veterans Care Act.   

 

This legislation would establish a “presumption of service connection” for the veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base (K2) in Uzbekistan and who have since been diagnosed with toxic exposure-related illnesses and diseases, and require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide them with service-connected health care and disability benefits.

 

The House version of Chairman Lynch’s bill currently has 71 cosponsors.  U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) have sponsored S. 454, the Senate companion of Chairman Lynch’s bill.

 

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, Rep. Lynch led an investigation to determine whether more than 15,000 servicemembers were exposed to toxic chemicals and environmental hazards while deployed to K2 between 2001 and 2005.  The investigation uncovered clear evidence that K2 servicemembers were exposed to multiple toxic hazards at K2, including jet fuels and petrochemicals in the soil, burn pits, depleted uranium, hazardous airborne particulate matter, and other cancer-causing chemicals.

 

Chairman Lynch also held two hearings last Congress on the effects of these exposures on K2 veterans and introduced legislation that would require the Department of Defense to conduct a study on the impacts of toxic exposures at K2 on the health of those who deployed there. That provision was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021.

 

 

Testimony of Rep. Stephen F. Lynch

Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security

“Legislative Hearing on H.R. 1355, the K2 Veterans Care Act, and Other Bills”

May 5, 2021

 

Thank you, Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Bost for this opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 1355, the K2 Veterans Care Act.  I’d also like to commend Chairwoman Luria and Ranking Member Nehls of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance, and all of the Members of the Committee for your commitment to improving the lives of America’s nearly 20 million veterans.   

 

Earlier this Congress, Chairman Takano stated:  “The burden of proof shouldn’t be on our veterans, and there’s no reason that they and their survivors have to fight VA for the care and benefits they earned.” 

 

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, I strongly agree.  In line with this Committee’s landmark efforts to ensure that America’s veterans receive health care and benefits that are commensurate with their service, I introduced the K2 Veterans Care Act with my colleague, Representative Mark Green of Tennessee.  This legislation has over 70 bipartisan cosponsors. 

 

Between 2001 and 2005, more than 15,000 American servicemembers deployed to Karshi Khanabad, or K2—a former Soviet air base in southern Uzbekistan—to provide operational and strategic support to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11.  As evidenced by declassified documents released by my Subcommittee, these dedicated service men and women were exposed to multiple toxic chemicals and radiological hazards during their deployments—including dangerous petrochemicals, volatile organic compounds, depleted uranium, and burn pit smoke.

 

In the years following their service, more than 400 K2 veterans have self-reported multiple forms of cancer and other debilitating illnesses and health conditions.  According to a 2015 public study issued by the U.S. Army, K2 veterans are up to five times as likely to develop a certain type of cancer than their counterparts who deployed to South Korea. 

 

Regrettably, the VA has not yet acknowledged a causal relationship between the toxic hazards we now know existed at K2, and the illnesses many of these veterans have been diagnosed with later in life.  As a result, the burden of proof falls to the individual veteran when applying for healthcare or disability benefits from the VA to demonstrate that his or her illness is service-connected, which more often than not results in a denial.   

 

The K2 Veterans Care Act would remedy this wrong.  The bill would establish a presumption of service connection and require the VA to provide hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care for K2 veterans for diseases or illnesses associated with exposure to jet fuel, volatile organic compounds, burn pit toxins, and other toxic substances—all of which were known to have been present at K2.  This legislation is narrowly tailored to those veterans who deployed to K2 and has been endorsed by various veterans’ service organizations, including the Stronghold Freedom Foundation, the VFW, Disabled American Veterans, and the Wounded Warrior Project.

 

Thank you again to the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the opportunity to testify in support of H.R. 1355 and I am happy to answer any questions that Members may have.  I yield back the balance of my time.     

 

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117th Congress