Please note that this article discusses the K2 Karshi-Khanabad Air Base – not to be confused with the synthetic cannabinoid K2.
Did you serve in the Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan – also known as K2 – between 2001 and 2005?
If so, you are probably aware that former service members and multiple non-profit organizations have been calling on the VA, the Defense Department, and Congress to introduce veterans’ disability for exposure at K2.
The lobbying went on for years and drew on an ever-increasing pile of scientific evidence. Nevertheless, policymakers have so far been reluctant to acknowledge a direct connection between service at K2 and certain health conditions.
In this article about veterans benefits for toxic exposure at K2:
- What Is K2?
- Who Are K2 Veterans?
- What Toxic Substances Were There in K2?
- What Health Conditions Are Associated with K2 Contamination?
- Can You Apply for Veterans Disability for Exposure at K2?
- What Does the Executive Order on Care of Veterans with Service in Uzbekistan Entail?
- You Have Health Concerns and Are a K2 Veteran. What Should You Do Next?
- Looking to Claim Veterans Disability for Exposure at K2?
However, recent developments in the White House indicate that political attitudes may be changing.
On January 19, 2021, President Trump signed a last-minute executive order directing the Secretary of Defense to carry out a detailed investigation of the conditions at K2. The study will look into the presence of toxic substances on-site and a possible causal link between exposure and health conditions observed in Karshi-Khanabad veterans.
A report by the Secretary of Defense is due within a year of the date of the order. The findings are likely to be a game-changer that will pave the way for extending VA disability benefits to K2 service members.
While we await the results of the new investigations, this article can help you find answers to the most frequently asked questions about K2 based on what we know so far.
What Is K2?
Karshi-Khanabad – also known as K2 and Camp Stronghold Freedom – is a former Soviet airbase in Qashqadaryo Province, present-day southeastern Uzbekistan.
From 2001 to 2005, the one-square-mile site was occupied by the U.S. military, which used the proximity of Karshi to the Afghan border to launch support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. The U.S. Army, Air Force and Marines deployed more than 15,000 service members over that four-year period.
The U.S. vacated the base in November 2005. K2 is currently occupied by the 60th Separate Mixed Aviation Brigade of the Uzbek Air Force.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about disabilities caused by burn pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Who Are K2 Veterans?
As per President Trump’s executive order, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense are to consider service members on active duty in Uzbekistan between October 1, 2001, and December 31, 2005, as veterans within the meaning of 38 U.S.C. § 1710(e)(1)(D).
That order would entitle them to medical services, hospital, and nursing home care for any illness resulting from exposure to radiation and toxic substances, regardless of whether there is conclusive medical evidence that the condition is attributable to their military service.
What Toxic Substances Were There in K2?
Back when it was a Soviet military facility, K2 housed chemical weapons, enriched uranium, fuels, and other toxic substances. As a result, various harmful solvents saturated the soil in the area, forming what service members at the time described as “black goo.” There were also frequent complaints of a foul smell coming from a trench next to the original tent city.
The Department of Defense (DoD) conducted several operational health risk assessments and environmental site characterizations in 2001, 2002, and 2004. The reports were declassified in July 2020 and revealed that K2 service members had been exposed to various toxic hazards, including:
- Depleted uranium. Soviet-era missiles were destroyed at the base a few years before the U.S. Army occupied K2. A 2001 assessment found that surface dirt samples from the site contained depleted low-level radioactive uranium. In 2002, radiation levels were four times above background levels.
- Asbestos was found in dirt and roof tile samples but not in the air.
- Lead-based paint. One building – the one-stop in-processing center – had lead-based paint.
- Jet fuel, kerosene, and other petrochemicals. Leaks in the Soviet-era fuel distribution system had resulted in extensive jet fuel spills underground. That was the cause of the pervasive bad smell and “black goo.”
- Volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The air samples contained VOCs from jet fuel vapors. However, the concentrations did not exceed military exposure guidelines.
- Particulate matter and dust. All service members were exposed to particulate matter and dust. The concentration varied across seasons and depending on the weather conditions.
- Tetrachloroethylene. Air samples showed elevated levels of tetrachloroethylene.
- Cyanide. Varying traces of cyanide and other residuals of Soviet-era chemical weapons were found on-site, including in the showers.
- Burn pits. Although the VA did not include Karshi-Khanabad in its burn pit registry, visual site inspections in September 2004 reported multiple open fires near the base.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
What Health Conditions Are Associated with K2 Contamination?
At present, the available data is inconclusive and insufficient to establish a direct service connection. However, evidence that K2 may be associated with certain health consequences is mounting.
Over time, more and more K2 veterans were diagnosed with various conditions – including cancer and neurological disorders – after their return from Uzbekistan. A closed Facebook page for service members with health issues potentially related to radiation and toxic exposure grew to nearly 5,000 members.
A 2020 investigation by CBS News unveiled further evidence of toxic exposure at the Karshi-Khanabad K2 airbase and its possible link to rare health conditions. This prompted hundreds of service members to come forward and report their diagnoses.
A declassified Operational Health Risk Assessment from November 2001 reported that the inhalation of vapor from fuel-contaminated soil might have adverse health effects on K2 personnel. The assessment further recommended prohibiting service members from digging into polluted soil.
In 2015, a DoD study on post-deployment cancers found that K2 service members had a 500% higher risk of:
- Malignant melanoma
- Neoplasms of hematopoietic and lymphatic tissues, excluding leukemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
However, it is important to note that this study was based on just a few instances of each type of cancer. As such, it does not provide definitive evidence of a causal link with service at Karshi-Khanabad.
The VA and DoD are currently conducting follow-up research to assess the health of K2 veterans. This should shed more light on the link between K2 contamination and specific health conditions, providing us with clearer answers.
In this video, on of our VA compensation lawyers explains the difference between a 100% VA Rating and TDIU.
Can You Apply for Veterans Disability for Exposure at K2?
Currently, the VA does not classify service at K2 as exposure to toxic substances. Therefore, there is no legal presumption of a direct connection between the Karshi-Khanabad airbase and any health conditions.
This means you cannot currently apply for veterans’ disability for exposure at K2. If you do apply at this stage, the VA will assess your claim on a case-by-case basis. It will be on you to establish a service connection between K2 contamination and your disability.
Since VA disability claims take so long and this is a developing issue, we recommend starting your application as soon as possible. Like the Blue-Water Navy Agent Orange decision, any denied claims for something that changes should be entitled to backpay.
Individual service members and non-profits like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and various other Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) have been campaigning for the VA to recognize service at K2 as exposure for years. Failure to do so leaves thousands of veterans ineligible for disability benefits and VA health care.
Fortunately, the VA confirmed in April 2020 that it would be launching a new comprehensive study into the health status of thousands of K2 service members. It is hoped this will remove the burden of veterans having to prove a direct service connection.
What Does the Executive Order on Care of Veterans with Service in Uzbekistan Entail?
On January 19, 2021, in what was one of his last hours in office, President Trump issued an executive order that paves the way for the introduction of veterans’ disability for exposure at K2.
Definition of Veterans to Include K2 Service Members
The order directs the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs to consider whether service members who were on active duty in K2 between October 1, 2001, and December 31, 2005, should be recognized as veterans as per 38 U.S.C. § 1710(e)(1)(D).
If so, they would be able to access hospital and medical services and nursing home care for conditions associated with exposure to toxic substances and radiation, whether or not there is conclusive evidence that they are attributable to their military service.
Studies on Toxic Exposure at Karshi-Khanabad Air Base
Within 365 days of the date of the executive order, the Secretary of Defense shall conduct an in-depth investigation into the toxic exposure of service members at K2. This includes:
- A thorough assessment of the conditions at Karshi-Khanabad, including the presence and identification of any toxic substances, their exact locations on the site, the period and circumstances of the exposure, and the number of service members that may have been exposed.
- A detailed epidemiological study of any health consequences for the exposed service members. This study should be as rigorous as the studies conducted by the VA to make determinations on presumptive service connections.
- An assessment of the potential causal links between exposure to any of the toxic substances identified in Karshi-Khanabad and the health consequences observed in K2 personnel.
After the conclusion of the studies, the Secretary of Defense must submit a detailed report with the findings to the President. We don’t know when that will come, but we know that all of these directives are currently underway.
You Have Health Concerns and Are a K2 Veteran. What Should You Do Next?
New studies into K2 exposure are still pending, and, while things are looking promising, no one can tell for certain if the VA will extend presumptive exposure ratings to K2 service members.
However, that does not mean that there is nothing you can do if you are a Karshi-Khanabad veteran and have health issues. Here are four steps you can take right now:
1. Get Expert Medical Advice
The first thing you need to do is contact your health care provider to discuss any concerns you may have. Getting adequate treatment should be your number one priority.
2. Read Up on K2 Exposure and Stay Up to Date
Next, while you wait for the DoD report to come out, be sure to read the official VA guidance on Karshi-Kharbanda exposure and check the page regularly for updates. Follow up with the K2 Fact Sheet from the Army Public Health Center. If you work with us, know that we are keeping up to date with all K2 developments so you don’t have to.
3. Consider Filing a Claim Online
If you cannot wait for the determination of the VA and DoD on whether to extend the definition of exposed veterans and introduce veterans’ disability for exposure at K2, consider filing a claim online. The VA will determine your application on a case-by-case basis, but you may still be able to prove a direct service connection.
Give us a free call before you begin to make sure you get everything right from the beginning.
4. Calculate Your Disability Rating
Finally, to check your disability rating and find out how much you can receive, use our free VA Disability Calculator. It will save you the drudgery of using a traditional VA disability rating table and trying to make sense of VA Math on your own.
We update it regularly to reflect the latest VA ratings, too, including the 2021 veteran disability compensation rates that should stay in effect until December 2021.
All you have to do is enter:
- Your current level of disability
- Children under 18 or 24, if any
- Any dependent parents
- Your marital status
The calculator will then automatically show you your VA disability rating and estimated monthly payment.
However, please keep in mind that this is just an estimate. The results are based on the information you submitted and the latest VA rates.
To get a more accurate rating calculation, consider talking to our VA disability lawyers.
Looking to Claim Veterans Disability for Exposure at K2?
That option may soon become open to Karshi-Khanabad service members.
In any case, whether you plan to wait for the results of the new DoD studies or want to claim disability benefits now, you should get professional legal help.
At Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm, we’ve helped thousands of veterans with their VA disability applications and appeals. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to better serve disabled veterans in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
Talk to Us About Your Claim:
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can. If we can prove that your spouse’s death was service-related, we don’t have to wait for them to sort out the K2 mess. Give us a call and we’ll start on your case right away. We help surviving family members get paid for their veteran’s sacrifice every day.
Probably not. Whenever the VA changes laws that affect veterans in the middle of the process, it offers options to best serve the veterans. We went through this when RAMP quickly ended and AMA began. Keep in touch and we’ll be happy to walk you through any changes that come up. We’ll even call you if something changes that could affect your application.