Grothman: Helping K2 Airbase Veterans Exposed to Toxins is a Bipartisan Priority

Published: Nov 18, 2020

WASHINGTON – Subcommittee on National Security Ranking Member Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) opened today’s hearing by emphasizing that helping U.S. servicemembers who were exposed to toxins while deployed to Karshi-Khanabad (K2) Airbase in Uzbekistan is a bipartisan priority. Recent reports show U.S. servicemembers may have been exposed to jet fuel, PM10, and radiation while serving at the airbase, potentially leading to life-threatening illnesses.

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Ranking Member Grothman raised concerns over testimony that indicated military leadership’s failure in communicating contamination risks to servicemembers despite instructions to do so. He also highlighted the importance of developing a K2 roster for transparency, conducting a comprehensive study to assess the connection between toxic exposure and subsequent illness, and encouraging all K2 servicemembers to receive health screenings.

Below is his opening remarks as prepared:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important hearing.

Helping all veterans, and particularly those who served at K2, is a bipartisan priority of this Subcommittee.

In fact, Dr. Green, a member of this Subcommittee is one of the veterans that served at K2.

I want to offer my gratitude to him for his service to this country and his continued fight to bring justice to all the veterans that served along with him.

This is a unique opportunity for this Subcommittee and Congress, as a whole, to come together and get something done.

I sincerely thank the Chairman for his work on this topic and want to echo his statements on our witness requests for today.

This Subcommittee and Full Committee Chairmen and Ranking Members requested a senior level policy maker from the VA to be here. Unfortunately, this did not occur.

And while I have the utmost respect for you and your work, Dr. Hastings, it is vitally important to hear what administrative policy remedies may exist for these veterans.

I hope we can still find an appropriate time to hear from a senior VA policy maker but in the meantime, I want to thank our witnesses for being here.

Without significant support from both your Departments, any Congressional effort to help these veterans may be futile.

After the terror attacks of September 11, we deployed troops to K2 in Uzbekistan in preparation for an invasion into Afghanistan.

An old Soviet base, K2, unfortunately, posed serious toxic risk to those stationed there.

We have heard stories of a pond that glowed green, black sludge coming up from the ground, and contaminated soil throughout the base.

Since the base was closed, there have been innumerable cancers, illnesses, and deaths reported from those who served.

This is saddening and until recently largely forgotten.

I am encouraged by efforts undertaken by you both to understand more about the dangers associated with K2.

Development of a K2 roster will provide much needed transparency and help the VA make health care determinations.

Conducting a comprehensive study to assess the connections between toxic exposure at K2 and subsequent illnesses is encouraging.

This is a good start, but we must continue to push forward.

Further, since our last hearing in February, numerous Environmental Site Studies and Operational Health Risk Assessments about K2 have been declassified.

These show the multitudes of toxins that these servicemembers could have been exposed to, including jet fuel, PM10, and radiation.

Shockingly, these documents and previous testimony show that military leaders failed to communicate the risks of K2 with those stationed there despite being instructed to do so.

I fully understand that neither of you were in charge of this over a decade ago, but I hope you now feel as we do – that this is unacceptable.

We need to be encouraging screenings for those who served at K2. And we need to be encouraging K2 veterans to speak up and come to the VA to seek treatment.

This Subcommittee will continue to fight for all servicemembers that were stationed at K2 and their families.

We cannot afford to sit idly by as those who put their lives on the line for this Country continue to get sick.

I hope this hearing can inform everyone on how best to move forward.

Again, thank you to all the witnesses for being here and to the Chairman for holding this hearing.

I yield back.

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