Kim Brooks of New Milford, widow of a deceased K2 veteran and a member of the Stronghold Freedom Foundation (SFF) board, speaks at Monday’s news conference.

NEW HAVEN – Veterans activists announced Monday that they were filing a federal Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Pentagon for its refusal to disclose records about toxic conditions at an airbase that served as an early hub of U.S. military activity in Afghanistan.

The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, representing the Stronghold Freedom Foundation, announced the lawsuit at a news conference attended by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, who said the men and women who served at the base can’t get proper treatment for their various—and often mysterious—illnesses without exact information on the substances to which they were exposed.

“The U.S. government has a responsibility to provide information to these veterans so they can get the medical care that they need,” Blumenthal said. “That’s a basic, fundamental right.” Holding up a copy of the suit, he added: “There should be no need for this kind of complaint in the United States of America.”

Karshi-Khanabad Air Base in Uzbekistan, commonly referred to as K2, served as one of the first staging areas for American military action in Afghanistan. More than 15,000 U.S. service members passed through there between 2001 and 2005. Personnel began complaining of nausea, headaches, and rashes while still serving at K2, and many died of rare illnesses after returning, according to the Stronghold Freedom Foundation.

The U.S. Department of Defense documents declassified so far show that K2 veterans were exposed to just under 400 different chemical compounds. The soil there contained jet fuel, asbestos, uranium, and chemical weapons, among other contaminants.

Despite that, SFF contends, the Pentagon has yet to reveal enough specifics regarding the contaminations, including the amounts involved, to give veterans proper medical care. SFF Executive Director Matt Erpelding, himself a K2 veteran, said the lawsuit comes more than 200 days since SFF and CVLC submitted their first Freedom of Information Act requests. In that time, the Pentagon has “produced no responsive records,” he said.

Kim Brooks of New Milford, who serves on the Stronghold Freedom Foundation (SFF) board because her husband, Lt. Col. Timothy Brooks, died of a “rare and aggressive brain tumor” following service at K2, said he spoke of a strange dust coating his mouth, nose and ears while at K2. Then there was time a “black goo rose from the floor of his tent.” A year after returning from his deployment, she said, doctors told Brooks “he wasn’t the only one” among K2 veterans who was suffering from an unexplained illness. 

“We still do not know what was in the air, and water, and the earth at K2,” she said. “We deserve the truth.”

Blumenthal, who serves on the Senate’s Veterans Affairs and Armed Services committees, said Congress could modify earlier legislation that gave veterans access to data on contaminants from burn pits. But time is running out for many K2 veterans, said, and immediate action is required. “It shouldn’t have to take an act of Congress,” he said.

Asked if he would go to U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin with a demand to release the documents, Blumenthal answered: “I will personally take this fight and this discussion directly to Secretary of Defense Austin—and if necessary, to the President of the United States.”

“Joe Biden knows better than most people how insidious toxins can cause brain cancer and other deadly ailments,” he said. “I have talked to him about this issue, and I believe he is deeply sympathetic.”