Lawmakers Investigate Cancer Cluster of Veterans Who Served at 'K2' Base

C-130 Hercules aircrew members at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan.
C-130 Hercules aircrew members board their aircraft for an Operation Enduring Freedom mission at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base, Uzbekistan, on April 19, 2005. (Air Mobility Command Public Affairs)

A House committee is investigating cancer diagnoses in more than 400 veterans who served in Uzbekistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The House Oversight and Reform National Security Subcommittee plans to hold a hearing Nov. 18 to determine whether the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense are taking the health concerns of these former service members seriously.

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"The courageous Americans who served at [Karshi-Khanabad, or K2] were among the first boots on the ground after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Today, many of them face devastating health conditions potentially tied to their service. They are looking for answers -- answers our government has denied them for years," Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., said in a release Wednesday.

He added that a bipartisan committee has found "clear evidence that K2 veterans were exposed to toxic and environmental hazards."

"Yet the VA has refused to provide the full range of treatments and benefits these veterans deserve. I remain committed to advocating on behalf of our K2 heroes and look forward to hearing the VA and DoD's plans to right this injustice," Lynch said.

The U.S. used Karshi-Khanabad, a former Soviet and Uzbek military base, as a logistics installation to support operations in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2005.

Service members who were stationed there have described polluted conditions at the base, including "black gunk" that oozed up through the floorboards of their barracks and fine dust that settled on surface areas.

Hundreds of veterans who were assigned there have been diagnosed with various types of cancer, including brain, colon and thyroid.

Kim Brooks, whose husband, Army Lt. Col. Tim Brooks, died of brain cancer at age 34 in 2004, testified before the committee earlier this year that families deserve to know what substances their service members were exposed to and that veterans or their survivors should qualify for VA benefits.

"I am here to ask -- to plead, really -- that you do everything in your power to ensure that other K2 veterans and families receive the medical and financial support that they deserve," Brooks told the committee Feb. 27.

The controversy surrounding K2 contamination and suffering veterans was first reported in December 2019 by McClatchy reporter Tara Copp. DoD documents obtained by the news organization stated that the grounds of the base, also known as Camp Stronghold Freedom, were contaminated with missile propellant, solvents, fuel, lubricants, trace amounts of chemical weapons and depleted uranium.

The runoff ponds at the installation were bright green -- a color so unnatural that personnel referred to them as "Skittles."

VA officials said April 22 that the department is taking steps to address the concerns of service members and veterans who were assigned to the base, including a study to research health trends among them.

The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 18. Slated to testify are Patricia Hastings, VA's chief consultant for post-deployment health services, and David Smith, deputy assistant secretary of defense for health readiness.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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