Vet Toxic Exposure | K2 Black Goo VA Ready to help and asks Sick Veterans to Come Forward
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie acknowledged publicly 5 FEB that service members who deployed to a Uzbekistan base used after the 9/11 attacks may have been exposed to toxic substances, asking for them to come forward to get help. “Several years ago our soldiers, sailors, airmen in particular started seeing ‘black goo’ come up from the ground. We are working with the Department of Defense to get to the bottom of that,” said Wilkie, who was speaking at the National Press Club and took questions from reporters.
In December, McClatchy exclusively reported that the Pentagon knew about contamination at the Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan base, known as “K2,” before it deployed thousands of forces there. The Pentagon used K2 to launch airstrikes and support operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban after the 9/11 attacks. Beyond the black goo, which may have been fuels and other solvents, McClatchy also uncovered documents showing that the Pentagon knew the base had been contaminated by enriched uranium and chemical weapons remnants. On Wednesday, Wilkie acknowledged McClatchy’s reporting on the issue and pledged that the response K2 veterans will get now will be different than the challenges they have faced in getting help in the past.
“McClatchy has reported on this extensively,” Wilkie said. “What I am telling veterans, and I said this to the Secretary of Defense last week, I want all veterans who’ve been there and feel they need to see us to come forward.” “Be it those who have been exposed to something at K2, be it Blue Water Navy veterans, be it those who still suffer the impacts of Agent Orange, come see us. File the claims. Come speak to us. This is not your grandfather’s VA where the paperwork Is going to last 10 years,” Wilkie added. “We have people ready to help. That’s the message that I give to K2.”
Some of the men and women who served at K2 have been struck with various cancers or other chronic ailments. They have struggled for years to get help from the VA or get the department to recognize their illnesses as connected to their time at the toxic base. Instead, they have tried to help each other through a private Facebook group. During the time K2 was open to U.S. forces, roughly 7,000 served there. The Facebook group, which vets members for their military service at K2, has rapidly grown to 2,900 members. At least 310 K2 veterans in the group have acknowledged they have been diagnosed with cancer.
Several K2 veterans are in Washington this week, meeting with congressional committees to raise awareness of the illnesses there, and last month, the national security subcommittee of the House Oversight and Reform committee sent letters to Wilkie and to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, seeking information about contamination at the base. Asked about Wilkie’s comments, former Air Force Staff Sgt. Derek Blumke responded, “Our reaction was disappointment.” Blumke deployed to K2 in 2001 and 2003 with the 16th Special Operations Wing and is in Washington this week meeting with Congress on the issue. “We don’t need the VA Secretary to tell these veterans ‘Come to the VA and seek the VA,’ when many times they will get denied service connection for their toxic exposures at K2,” Blumke said. “We need the VA to identify and proactively contact every veteran who put their boots on the ground in Uzbekistan, to let them know they have been exposed and provide them the care they deserve.”
Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security, sent letters to the Pentagon and VA seeking information on K2. The deadline to respond has passed, and both federal agencies have asked for more time. But Lynch said some of K2’s veterans don’t have time to wait. “Some of these folks are stage four and have not been given the proper care that they deserve,” Lynch said. “I think we may have to resort to subpoenas,” Lynch added. “I’ve got a really low tolerance for delay here. So those could be coming out. I’ve already spoken to some of our Republican colleagues who agree with us.”
Previously, the VA’s official statement to McClatchy had been that “there is no indication of increased cancer rates among veterans who served at Karshi-Khanabad.” When notified of the number of cancers prior to Wilkie’s speech Wednesday, the agency questioned the veterans’ self-reporting to the group.
[Source: McClatchy DC | Tara Copp | February 05, 2020 ++]