August 10, 2021

Shaheen Leads NH Delegation in Letter Asking VA to Work with Pease Air National Guard Base on New Toxic Exposure Initiative

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today led a letter with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Representatives Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Chris Pappas (NH-01) to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough to urge the VA to work with the 157th Air Refueling Wing on a new occupational toxic exposure initiative.  

  

The letter asks the VA to work with the 157th as they pursue more robust study on the potential health impacts to guard members and former service members around the risk of cancer and other illnesses. Given the limitations of the cancer mortality study that was recently released by Pease in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAF SAM), the delegation suggests that Pease is an ideal site for the VA’s newly-created Military Exposure Research Program to launch its work.  

  

“In 2018, leadership of the 157th was presented with concerns about unusually high rates of cancer and other illnesses among former members of the 157th and veterans who were stationed at the former Pease Air Force Base, situated at the same site until its closure in 1991. This community group, led by several widows of service members, asked the 157th to explore the rates of cancer among the population who had served at Pease and whether military occupational exposures at the base may have contributed to cancer and illness,” the delegation wrote. 

  

They concluded: “Given the work that has already been started at Pease and the dedication of the 157th and community stakeholders to this cause, we believe Pease is an ideal site for the MERP to work with as it launches. Our service members and families here in New Hampshire and across the country deserve answers on the health impacts of toxic exposures they encountered while serving our nation.” 

  

This letter is supported by the 157th as well as community advocates, such as Doris Brock. 

  

Full text of the letter is available here and below: 

  

Dear Secretary McDonough: 

  

We write today to applaud the Veterans Health Administration for its work to establish a Military Exposure Research Program (MERP) to study in more depth the health impacts of military occupational exposures to toxic chemicals. As you work to establish the MERP in fiscal year 2022, we ask that you consider working with the 157th Air Refueling Wing (the 157th) at the Pease Air National Guard Base in Newington, New Hampshire, as they continue their pursuit of investigations into cancer and potential occupational exposures. 

  

In 2018, leadership of the 157th was presented with concerns about unusually high rates of cancer and other illnesses among former members of the 157th and veterans who were stationed at the former Pease Air Force Base, situated at the same site until its closure in 1991. This community group, led by several widows of service members, asked the 157th to explore the rates of cancer among the population who had served at Pease and whether military occupational exposures at the base may have contributed to cancer and illness. The 157th agreed to pursue these questions and has worked over the last two years with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine (USAF SAM) on a cancer mortality study. Released earlier this year, this study showed that while in general cancer mortalities at Pease were statistically in-line with cancer mortality among the general population, there were statistically significant findings showing increased rates of mortality for several cancers such as lung/bronchial, prostate and breast cancer. 

  

While the 157th and community members are grateful for USAF SAM’s work, all agree that there were limitations to the study and more research must be done. The 157th is currently working to identify next steps in their research and potential partners. Given the work that has already been started at Pease and the dedication of the 157th and community stakeholders to this cause, we believe Pease is an ideal site for the MERP to work with as it launches. 

  

Our service members and families here in New Hampshire and across the country deserve answers on the health impacts of toxic exposures they encountered while serving our nation. We appreciate your commitment to our veterans and their families and your attention to the important topic of military occupational exposure. 

  

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