February 26, 2021 - Washington - Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Representatives Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.) and Mark Green (R-Tenn.) and a group of their colleagues to introduce the bicameral, bipartisan 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, requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide health care and benefits.
(Left) Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
As many as 15,000 U.S. servicemembers deployed to K2 Air Base—an old Soviet military site leased to the United States from the Uzbek government between 2001 and 2005—to support military operations into northern Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Recent media reports and declassified Department of Defense (DOD) documents released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on National Security indicate that K2 servicemembers were exposed to multiple cancer-causing toxic chemicals and radiological hazards during their deployments. These toxins include hazardous petrochemicals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), depleted uranium, burn pits and elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene.
According to a September 2004 health assessment, the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine found that, “the potential for daily contact with radiation exists for up to 100% of the assigned units” at the K2 base. 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 K2 Veterans Care Act would create a “presumption of service connection” for illnesses associated with toxic exposures at K2. This presumption of service connection would require the VA to provide health care and disability benefits to any K2 veterans who presents diseases associated with jet fuel, VOCs, particulate matter, depleted uranium, asbestos, and lead-based paint—all of which were toxins found at K2.
The legislation has been endorsed by Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Disabled Veterans of America (DAV), and the Stronghold Freedom Foundation.
“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.”
“The veterans who deployed to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base (K2) were exposed to dangerous substances while serving our country,” said Director of VFW’s National Legislative Service Pat Murray. “Thousands of troops worked and slept in dangerous conditions every day and they are suffering illnesses because of their service. The VFW supports this proposal and looks forward to its swift passage so our K2 veterans can begin to receive the care and benefits they rightfully deserve.”
“We know that the thousands of veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Air Base in Uzbekistan were exposed to toxins, burn pits and depleted uranium; however, many have been denied health care and benefits for 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, 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 who served, especially those whose service has led to such serious disabilities.”
“The Stronghold Freedom Foundation gladly endorses and supports the introduction of the K2 Veterans Care Act of 2021. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the very first US servicemembers arriving at that far-flung and toxic base. This legislation will finally provide K2 veterans, their families, and their survivors with the recognition and care they earned those many years ago. We are grateful for Senator Blumenthal's leadership on K2 and look forward to working with lawmakers as this bill becomes law.”
In addition to Feinstein, Blumenthal and Baldwin, the Senate legislation has also been cosponsored by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). The House version of this legislation currently has 58 cosponsors.