[WASHINGTON, DC] – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation today, mandating the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provide health care and benefits to all veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base (K2) in Uzbekistan and have illnesses associated with the toxic substances found at the site.
“This bill will bring life-saving relief to hundreds – and potentially thousands – of veterans who were exposed to extremely harmful toxins in the black goo and glowing ponds reported at K2,” said Blumenthal. “When we send people to war, we make a commitment and accept an obligation to treat them no matter the costs. We know that K2 veterans are suffering from cancers and other illnesses at a great rate, so the VA has no time to waste to make good on this commitment. Lives are at stake.”
“The Pentagon has known for years that our U.S. troops were exposed to cancer causing toxins while serving in Uzbekistan and it’s simply wrong for the VA to deny them health care and disability benefits. The VA has taken a similar approach in the past, delaying recognition and compensation for American veterans exposed to toxic substances like Agent Orange in Vietnam, and with military burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, while veterans became sick and died. We can’t let that happen again,” said Baldwin. “Our legislation does right by those who served at K2 and were exposed to health risks. We have a commitment to these troops and we need to keep it.”
Blumenthal and Baldwin’s legislation would give K2 veterans access to VA benefits by creating a “presumption of service connection” for illnesses associated with exposure to multiple toxic substances and ground contaminants at the Uzbek site caused by runoff from a chemical weapons decontamination site, an exploded missile storage facility, an abandoned fuel storage facility, as well as asbestos and low level radioactive processed uranium. The legislation mandates the VA provide health care and benefits to the K2 veterans with any diseases associated with the toxins found at K2 and allows K2 veterans to register in VA’s Open Burn Pit Registry to improve data on incidence of disease.
An estimated 7,000 U.S. servicemembers deployed to the K2 military site, an old Soviet base leased from the Uzbek government with proximity to Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in northern Afghanistan, from 2001-2005. The U.S. Army directed an intelligence review and environmental health study of the site in 2001, finding multiple toxins and ground contaminants. In April 2020, the VA announced that it would study illnesses among K2 veterans including cancers, but results from the study are not expected for at least 18 months.
The legislation has been endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
“Many veterans who served at the Karshi Khanabad (K2) base have developed serious health issues due to exposure to toxicants,” said Wounded Warrior Project Vice President of Government Affairs Jose Ramos. “The K2 Veterans Care Act of 2020 will provide these veterans the hospital care, medical services, and nursing home care they need and deserve. We thank Senators Blumenthal and Baldwin for introducing this bill and look forward to working with them to ensure its passage in the Senate.”
“Veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad were exposed to a litany of toxic substances,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars Deputy Director Matthew Doyle. “The VFW is proud to support this legislation, which would rightfully provide disability benefits and care to veterans who developed health conditions as a result of their exposure at K2.”
“We know that the thousands of veterans who served at Karshi Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan were exposed to toxins, burn pits, and depleted uranium; however, they are not currently eligible for health care or benefits for any diseases or conditions related to those exposures, said DAV Deputy National Legislative Director for Benefits Shane Liermann. “DAV fully supports the K2 Veterans Care Act of 2020, as it would provide health care eligibility and establish a framework for presumptive diseases that could lead to benefits for these veterans. We thank Senator Blumenthal for his leadership and his commitment to the men and women exposed to toxins during their military service.”
The full text of the legislation can be found here.