Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told the Washington Examiner Thursday that legislation is needed before the Department of Veteran Affairs can help those veterans suffering from a range of illnesses related to toxic exposure in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
But the small subset of veterans who spent time at a contaminated Uzbek airbase that served as a northern staging ground for the invasion of Afghanistan has long called on a simple Department of Defense regulation change and the VA to cooperate.
“We don’t want our veterans to go through what Vietnam veterans went through in terms of not knowing,” Wilkie told the Washington Examiner in a Thursday press call hosted by Inside Sources.
“Now, the Congress does have to change legislation,” Wilkie said, describing a statutory change to the percentage a veteran is considered disabled after a service-related injury. “We don’t deny medical services to any veteran who is sick.”
But K2 veteran and retired Army Staff Sgt. Mark Jackson told the Washington Examiner that Wilkie was splitting hairs to obfuscate the problem.
“Secretary Wilkie is providing the same vague platitudes that we’ve been getting for 20 years,” said Jackson, who served at the secret base known as “K2” in Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan.
“It’s ironic that he says that he’s trying to prevent what happened to Vietnam veterans because it’s already happening to us,” he said.
“He’s technically correct, any sick veteran can go in and get care,” he explained. “That’s the point is that, without preventative care and early intervention, all we’re going to have is sick veterans.”
Jackson said veterans are denied preventive screenings to detect rare cancers related to their exposure. Now, he and other K2 veterans are hoping legislation or an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act will force the VA and the Pentagon to act.
Asked by the Washington Examiner if he has asked Defense Secretary Mark Esper to conduct the required epidemiological studies that a law would mandate, Wilkie only said the K2 was among a host of things the two agencies discuss.