U.S. Rep. Dr. Mark Green (R-TN-07) on Thursday helped introduce a bipartisan resolution directing the Secretary of Defense to assess the toxic exposure of American military service members deployed to Karshi Khanabad Air Base (K2) in Uzbekistan.
U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA-08), Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee, is co-sponsor of H.R. 5957, the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020. The act also would direct the secretary to create a registry of service members who may have been exposed to the toxic substances while deployed to K2 from 2001-2005.
On Wednesday, Green tweeted, “TODAY on #WhiteboardWednesday— I’m sharing more about my bill w/ @RepStephenLynch holding @DeptofDefense and @DeptVetAffairs accountable for veterans’ toxic exposure at K2 Air Base in Uzbekistan”.
TODAY on #WhiteboardWednesday—
— Rep. Mark Green (@RepMarkGreen) February 27, 2020
In a 2015 study conducted by the U.S. Army, service members who deployed to K2 were found to be more than five times as likely to develop cancer than their counterparts deployed to South Korea, Green said. Since the study, it is estimated that the number of veterans suffering from cancer and other serious medical conditions has increased dramatically, and service members have died potentially due to this exposure. The VA has not acknowledged a causal relationship between deployment to K2 and a subsequent cancer diagnosis.
Green said, “The brave men and women who served our country with courage are now facing cancer and life-threatening illnesses from toxic exposure at K2. 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. We must address this and do it now; it is our duty.”
Lynch said, “I am deeply troubled by reports of U.S. service members and special operations forces who have been exposed to chemical and radioactive contamination at the K2 base without their knowledge.”
Shortly after September 11, 2001, U.S. forces were deployed to K2, a former Soviet base, because of its close proximity to al Qaeda and Taliban targets in northern Afghanistan. Nearly 7,000 U.S. troops were deployed there from 2001-2005. The radioactive and lethal chemical conditions at K2 reportedly stemmed from depleted uranium, chemical weapons, and fuels and solvents which manifested as “black goo” oozing from the ground.
Green said that according to one retired special forces officer, “After returning from combat years later, we are all coming down with various forms of cancer that the [Department of Veterans Affairs] is refusing to acknowledge.”
Last month, Congress launched an investigation and requested information from the Department of Defense and the VA about potential contamination at K2 and related adverse health effects of U.S. personnel who served there.
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Jason M. Reynolds has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist at outlets of all sizes.