U.S. service members deployed to an old Soviet military base in Uzbekistan during the invasion of Afghanistan knew shortly after they had arrived it was not a healthy environment to be in. Many years later, veterans who were assigned to the base, Karshi-Khanabad or K2, now either have cancer or have died from cancer.
McClatchy reported the Defense Department knew the base had contained chemical weapons, enriched uranium, and soil saturated with fuels and other solvents that formed a "black goo." Veterans or their family members have gone to Congress to ask for help in making the Department of Veterans Affairs cover their medical bills for aliments that seem to have stemmed from their time at K2.
A U.S. Army study from 2015 said military members who were deployed to K2 were five times more likely to develop cancer than their counterparts deployed to South Korea.
Rep. Mark Green (R-TN), who had served as an Army special operations flight surgeon, has been leading the charge with Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) in making sure K2 veterans get the help they need through the K2 Veterans Toxic Exposure Accountability Act of 2020. The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to assess the toxic exposure of American military service members deployed to K2 from 2001 to 2005 and address the health conditions caused by their exposure. It would also have the VA establish a registry of service members who may have been exposed to toxic substances while deployed to the K2.
While the VA recently announced they will conduct a new health study of veterans’ toxic exposure at K2, a lot more needs to be done to ensure K2 veterans get the help they deserve and have earned. All the work required to get the bill signed into law has been put on hold during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but while the Senate has figured out how to come back into session, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has not called the House back, resulting in further delay for Green's bill.
"I would say it has been definitely slowing us down, you know, we can't get this legislation to the floor. It has to go through committee and then go to the floor and, obviously, if we're out of session, that can't happen, you can't have a committee meeting," Green told Townhall.
Green said K2 veterans who are going through cancer treatments, and whose immune systems are suppressed as a result of treatment, now have to also be concerned about being infected with COVID-19. Green knows the hazards about K2 after being at the base for a short amount time during his career. He also knows the risk of cancer treatments as he has had colon cancer and thyroid cancer, though he mostly attributes those to the burn pits in Iraq.
"If you're going to charge an enemy position and expose yourself to enemy fire, you want to know that your country is going to care of you," Green said, explaining the situation with K2 veterans is no different.
"This is our opportunity to ensure that the morale of the force today, they know we got their backs so that they will do their mission well."
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) told Townhall that Green's bill, which has equal support from Democrats, is a "prime example" of why Pelosi needs to call the House back into session.
"We have proven we can work. The challenge here is the Democrats have so much power just in the Speaker itself...it proves the essential items that we need to get done," he said.
McCarthy unveiled a plan this week that would put measures in place to allow House members to come back to Washington, D.C. while adhering to medical guidelines to prevent the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.
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