Amid concerns about long-term health problems, VA to track Red Hill fuel exposure for decades to come
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed in a hearing Wednesday that it will follow military families potentially exposed to jet fuel during the Navy’s Red Hill fuel spills for decades to come.
Thousands of people were sickened nearly year ago by the fuel-tainted tap water, but lawmakers and families are worried people could get lost in the government system as service members retire.
Meredith Wilson, whose husband is in the Air Force, lived in military housing at Pearl Harbor when last year’s fuel spills contaminated the Navy drinking water system that serves 93,000.
Before the crisis came to light around Thanksgiving, Wilson says she got vertigo and migraines.
“I go to the doctor and let her know about the vertigo and she says, wow, that’s weird. You’re the fifth female in two weeks with vertigo symptoms. It could be something environmental,” said Wilson.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health said in a September survey that 9,700 households were potentially exposed to jet fuel in the water.
Early on, military medical teams saw 6,000 patients.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked the VA about its efforts to track those exposed to jet fuel. The monitoring is based on a Department of Defense-created registry.
“Red Hill is one of the cohorts that we are concerned with,” said Dr. Patricia Hastings, chief consultant for Health Outcomes Military Exposures at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is a cohort that we will follow into the future and this will be decades of following up,” said Hastings.
VA leaders say Red Hill veterans are included in the PACT Act signed into law earlier this year, expanding VA coverage to 3.5 million toxic-exposed veterans.
“Jet fuels are what the military runs on and we have to know more about them,” said Hastings.
“This is not exactly a Camp LeJeune scenario, but we are going to look at it in the same manner,” she added.
Separately, the VA has launched a new toxic exposure screening at medical appointments and nationally has screened over 13,000 veterans.
“We want to make sure that those families, thousands of families who were impacted by the toxic release, that their health care needs our addressed going forward,” Hirono told Hawaii News Now.
While Wilson’s symptoms have improved slightly, she says she can’t sing because she’s ultra sensitive to sound.
She added the VA tracking is a start, but adds she’s navigating a toxic exposure with no guidance.
“I’m begging to be studied. I don’t care what they have to do to me,” said Wilson. “It’s a peek into our future unfortunately. I’m really afraid. That’s the truth.”
She added, “I’m ready to feel better and my biggest fear is they wait too long.”
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