Rep. Kildee: Veterans Exposed to Toxic PFAS Chemicals Deserve Access to Health Care
Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) testified today in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans' Affairs to push Congress and the U.S. Department of Defense to do more to address Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) contamination around military bases nationwide, including in Oscoda, and for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure veterans exposed to toxic chemicals have the health care they need.
PFAS chemicals have been found in groundwater and drinking water in Oscoda, Mich., due to their use in firefighting foam at former Wurtsmith Air Force Base, and around many other military instillations across the country. During his testimony, Congressman Kildee asked the U.S. Department of Defense to do more to clean up toxic contamination and ensure that veterans get the medical care they need if they were exposed to PFAS.
Earlier this week, Congressman Kildee also called on the Trump Administration to immediately release a study on the nationwide PFAS water contamination crisis.
A video of Congressman Kildee's full speech can be viewed here. A transcript of his remarks, as delivered, is below:
"Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Ranking Member, for holding this important hearing and giving us a chance to raise important issues.
I represent Oscoda, Michigan, which is a small community that contains the former Wurtsmith Air Force base, which was closed during a BRAC round more than twenty years ago.
Oscoda has been working to recover from the impact caused by this closure as well as dealing with some legacy issues caused by the base's operations.
For many decades, the Department of Defense has used a class of chemicals called PFAS in firefighting foam.
While PFAS is very good at putting out fires, it is a toxic chemical that causes negative health effects on human beings.
In Oscoda, the Defense Department's firefighting foam has leached into the groundwater around the former base and has contaminated the drinking water for residents nearby.
Residents in this town and Wurtsmith's military families unknowingly drank contaminated groundwater for many, many years.
I know that this committee has been working on looking hard at how we take care of our veterans who have been exposed to toxic chemicals.
Many of these chemicals we know a lot about, including Agent Orange, PCBs and TCE.
PFAS, on the other hand, is a new group of chemicals where there is small--yet growing and very concerning--new research being done on this class of chemicals.
Exposure to PFAS has already been linked to cancer, as well as thyroid, kidney, liver, heart and reproductive problems.
That's why in last year's National Defense Reauthorization Act, I pushed to include a requirement that the Department of Defense study the health impacts of PFAS on service members. I was happy to see this health study included in the final bill.
It is estimated that this study will take 5 to 7 years in order to be completed. Once it is completed, we will know more about the health issues associated with exposure to these chemicals.
When we get that information, when we understand the health impacts that PFAS represent, this committee should move to pass legislation to immediately consider those conditions, traceable to PFAS exposure, as service-connected illnesses, and the VA should provide the impacted veterans with the necessary health coverage.
Many veterans now are already facing costly medical bills because of health issues associated with PFAS exposure. These veterans need our help.
I have been working with the committee, especially my friend and colleague from Michigan, Congressman Bergman, on this issue. We have to ensure that veterans get the health care they need.
So, I look forward to working with this committee on passing legislation that would ensure that veterans exposed to PFAS have the health coverage they need.
Again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with the committee today. This is an important and growing issue, and it's one that I think will get the attention it deserves. So thank you for allowing me a few minutes on this question. Thank you."