Editorial: VA must help veterans who were exposed to contamination

  • In this March 1, 2017 photo, Michelle Dalton, Andrea Amico and Alayna Davis, all mothers with children at a daycare center at Pease International Tradeport in Portsmouth, N.H., pose together at the tradeport. Featuring an airport, hundreds of businesses and several day care centers, the Pease International Tradeport has been held up as a textbook example of how to redevelop an air base. But for many who worked or sent their children to day care there, they are learning the tradeport carried hidden risks _ specifically drinking water contaminated by firefighting foam used by the military. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Friday, April 12, 2019

Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., a Strategic Air Command base and pillar of the U.S. Cold War defense system, closed in 1991, but its toxic legacy still threatens today.

The base, now a bustling tradeport with more than 10,000 workers, was deemed a Superfund cleanup site by the Environmental Protection Agency due to widespread contamination. The 2014 discovery of PFAS chemicals in a city of Portsmouth water well at the tradeport, and its subsequent shutdown, proves contamination is far from removed.

The impact of contamination at the base, which opened in 1956, is still being realized. Among top concerns is the health of former Air Force and Air National Guard personnel, heightened by growing information about elevated cancer rates among those who worked at Pease.

Doris Brock, widow of Kendall Brock, who served 35 years with the 157th Air Refueling Wing at Pease, continues her fight to have the federal government address those concerns. Her husband died from bladder and prostate cancer. She wants the Department of Veterans Affairs to approve disability claims for “presumptive diseases” for all retired and active guardsmen who get sick, along with anyone who served at Pease Air Force Base. Key here is the provision of VA disability benefits. Brock, for one, filed her husband’s request for disability benefits in 2016, but still has not received a final answer.

It will not be easy to achieve this goal, but the federal government should be compelled to do what is right for veterans. The efforts of Brock and others gained strength from the involvement of New Hampshire U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas.

Pappas and a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week introduced legislation that would require the VA to cover treatment of any health conditions caused by PFAS exposure, and would make veterans and their families eligible for VA disability benefits. Shaheen led the way in passing legislation to conduct the nation’s first health study on the impacts of PFAS contamination that would be based on the population of workers and children at day care facilities at the tradeport.

The willingness of families to continue their fight, coupled with legislative leadership, can see this tough issue through so military personnel receive the care and support they deserve.

According to Military.com, the VA does presume specific disabilities for specific veterans were caused by their service. A pertinent example is contaminated water at the Marine Corps Base in Camp Lejeune, N.C. The main chemicals involved in the contamination there were volatile organic compounds, including trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreaser, and perchloroethylene (PCE), a dry cleaning solvent. The well at Pease was closed before the 2014 shutdown due to TCE detection. TCE has also been detected at a long-shuttered hangar.

Remediation of contaminated military installations is one step. But only by assuring that veterans are properly cared with proper health and benefit coverage can the nation do what is right.