In mid-November, members of Congress admonished the Department of Veterans Affairs during a hearing on the agency’s continued resistance to provide healthcare to Veterans for toxic exposure. The VA claims that more data must be gathered to conclude that exposure leads to illnesses such as cancer.
Recently declassified documents from the Defense Department show that the Pentagon was aware that troops were exposed to multiple toxins and hazards that have led to hundreds of cancer diagnoses and dozens of deceased Veterans. Veterans deployed to Karshi-Khanabad Air Base (K2) in Uzebekistan in the early days of the war on terror.
Lawmakers responded harshly to the VA’s stance, stating that the agency has left many Veterans from that base to be ineligible for certain preventative health programs and unable to receive VA disability benefits in connection to their service at K2.
“This is an injustice that must be rectified and [VA] Secretary [Robert] Wilkie has the authority to fix it by granting presumptive status to K2 Veterans today,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch
What were the toxins were troops exposed to at K2?
A health assessment by the Defense Department found the base had “elevated levels of volatile organic compounds and total petroleum hydrocarbons were detected at numerous locations throughout Stronghold Freedom, including tent city, eastern expansion area and adjacent to the aircraft maintenance facility.” The test found that the ambient air is the “main concern for environmental contaminants.”
Veterans have described the environment of the post as the pond water being “glowed green”, “black sludge oozed from the ground.” It is known that the government posted signs that warned troops to keep out of certain areas due to chemical agents.
However, even with all of this data, VA officials aren’t convinced. In fact, they are wanting more evidence to back up Veterans’ claims for health care and disability compensation. Additionally, thousands of other Veterans have been exposed to burn pits while serving overseas, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The VA has denied about 78% of burn pit claims as well.
Will the Biden-administration address Veteran toxic exposure?
Some Veterans advocates believe that toxic exposure will be a main priority to the Biden administration since he suspects that his deceased son’s, Beau Biden, cancer was caused by burn pit exposure in Iraq.
Currently, the Biden Administration plans to expand “the list of presumptive conditions to include exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins, and increasing research dollars.” Hopefully, this give officials a better understanding of the impact of toxic exposures and get troops the help they need.
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The Veteran Legal Assistance Program is here to assist the Active-Duty Military and Veterans. We are here to inform and amplify the voices of Veterans and their families. If you are in need of assistance, contact the Veterans Legal Assistance Program and let us know how we could help.