Washington, D.C. (Nov. 19, 2020)— Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, today drew parallels between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense’s (DOD) handling of health concerns of veterans and servicemembers who deployed to Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan between 2001 and 2005 and the fight to ensure health care and compensation for 9/11 responders and survivors.
“Following the 9/11 attacks, the EPA said the air at and around Ground Zero was safe – and so survivors went back to work and school and responders set about continuing rescue and recovery operations. And yet, as we now know, the air was anything but safe. Even as thousands of these heroes were getting exposed to deadly toxins that would end up making them sick, we had to fight to get the Bush Administration to accept the impact of the toxins at Ground Zero on the health of those exposed. It took years for us to get this much needed recognition of the health impacts on survivors and responders.”
“Similarly, it appears that the VA and DOD have been dragging their feet, with the VA continuing to deny that illnesses suffered by K2 veterans are service-connected. We need the VA and DOD to recognize these health effects so that these servicemembers and veterans, who risked everything and were among the first to deploy following the 9/11 attacks, can get the benefits they need and deserve.”
On January 13, 2020, Chairwoman Maloney and Subcommittee Chairman Lynch sent letters to DOD and VA requesting information about press reports that U.S. servicemembers and special operations forces who deployed to K2 after September 11, 2001, were reportedly exposed to cancer-causing hazards.
On February 27, 2020, the Subcommittee on National Security 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 who died from cancer.
That same day, Chairman Lynch and Rep. Mark Green introduced H.R. 5957, the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020. The bill, which has 71 cosponsors, directs the Secretary of Defense to assess the toxic exposure of American military servicemembers deployed to K2 from 2001 to 2005 so that DOD and the VA can address the health conditions caused by this exposure.
On March 4, 2020, Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairman Lynch, then-National Security Subcommittee Ranking Member Jody B. Hice, Rep. Green, and former Rep. Mark Meadows sent letters to DOD and VA to press both agencies for information as part of the Committee’s investigation.
On April 22, 2020, VA confirmed it is taking multiple steps to address the concerns of K2 servicemembers and veterans, including designing a new study to investigate health trends.
To date, VA continues to deny that illnesses suffered by K2 veterans are service-connected.
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