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 Navy fuel spills at Red Hill for decades to come.
Thousands of people were sickened nearly a year ago by fuel-contaminated tap water, but lawmakers and families fear people will get lost in the government system as the military takes their retirement.
Meredith Wilson, whose husband is in the Air Force, was living in military housing in Pearl Harbor when fuel spills last year contaminated the Navy drinking water system that serves 93,000 people .
Before the crisis hit around Thanksgiving, Wilson says she had dizziness and migraines.
“I go to the doctor and tell her about the dizziness and she says, wow, that’s weird. You are the fifth woman in two weeks with symptoms of vertigo. It could be something environmental,” Wilson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department of Health said in a September survey that 9,700 households were potentially exposed to jet fuel in water.
At first, military medical teams saw 6,000 patients.
During a hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) asked the VA about its efforts to track people exposed to jet fuel. Surveillance is based on a register created by the Ministry of Defence.
“Red Hill is one of the cohorts we are concerned about,” said Dr. Patricia Hastings, chief consultant for military exposure health outcomes at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is a cohort that we will follow in the future and it will be decades of follow-up,” Hastings said.
VA leaders say Red Hill veterans are included in the PACT law signed into law earlier this year, expanding VA coverage to 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic substances.
“Jet fuels are what the military uses and we need to know more about them,” Hastings said.
“It’s not exactly a Camp LeJeune scenario, but we’re going to look at it the same way,” she added.
Separately, the VA launched new screening for toxic exposure at medical appointments and screened more than 13,000 veterans nationwide.
“We want to make sure these families, the thousands of families who have been impacted by the toxic release, that their health care needs to be 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 that VA tracking is a start, but adds that she navigates toxic exposure without any guidance.
“I ask to be studied. I don’t care what they have to do to me,” Wilson said. “It is unfortunately a glimpse of our future. I’m really scared. It’s the truth.”
She added: “I’m ready to feel better and my biggest fear is that they wait too long.”
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