Former Army intelligence analyst Elba Barr is trained to connect the dots – training she now uses to sift through a pile of medical records.
“There’s been something massive since 2013 every year, medically speaking,” Barr told CBS News senior research correspondent Catherine Herridge.
While Barr was deployed across the Middle East and Africa after 9/11 to track down al-Qaeda, there is no question that the most toxic and dangerous place was Karshi-Khanabad, or, a former Soviet air base in Uzbekistan, a starting point for classified missions to Afghanistan.
“K2 was, to me, a base that should never have been a base … dangers, signs wherever your dangers were,”
The 41-year-old mother of two blames the four months she spent on K2 for her chronic reproductive health problems.
“I had cervical problems, continued to have severe pain, endometriosis. I had to have a partial hysterectomy. Last year I had both of my ovaries removed and they debuted, stage 1 cancer,” Barr said.
Barr is one of more than 200 female K2 veterans who flooded a Facebook page where members discuss pollution and health issues.
The nonprofit organization that tracks K2 cases says that 40% of former female service members who were at the base self-report at least one abortion, 8% report breast or uterine cancer and 30% report ovarian cancer or related problems. These data terrified Barr – brought her to tears.
A six monthsrevealed soil saturated with aviation fuel, oil and lubricants, radiation warnings as well as previous use of chemical substances.
Defense Department employee Mike Lechlitner was involved in early testing of the base. He said new information has revealed a lot about the base.
“We have learned that the Soviets had a chemical weapons decontamination unit next to our camp.”
Photos obtained by CBS News show that the base was also a dumping ground for used chemical weapons equipment, including protective equipment such as face masks used to block chemical agents. These face masks were found in the “tent city” where troops worked and slept.
Barr said the CBS News study was life-changing, giving her clarity on the cause of the medical problems she had had for years.
“I’ve spent the better part of ten years wondering, ‘Am I going crazy? … And then that’s what [the CBS News investigation] did. It validated everyone, a decade worth of trouble. “
Barr now opens up to her children about her toxic exposure.
“I have no doubt I will die young. You assume I am not. I live on borrowed time, 100%. It’s not a question of, it’s a question of when,” Barr told Herridge.
Despite the data, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize a link between K2 and disease. Barr wants the leadership to step up, and despite the suffering of her and other veterans, she is confident they will serve again.
“And if you ask us, we will do it again with a heartbeat. All we ask for is, we maintained our end to the agreement, and it’s at VA, and it’s at the Department of Defense to keep theirs.”
Acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller drafted an executive order that would open the door for medical assistance and financial relief for K2 veterans. The proclamation was in its final stages when the Capitol was exceeded bylast Wednesday. The K2 veterans’ group hopes it will still be signed by President Trump, even if they reach out to the Biden administration if there is no action before the inauguration day.