Increased concern over cancer risks faced by military aviators has led to a bipartisan Senate bill that would require DoD to study and track cases among these officers.
The Military Aviators Cancer Incidence Study Act – supported by MOAA and more than two dozen other organizations representing military, veteran, and environmental interests – comes after an investigation by news outlet McClatchy that unearthed, among other findings, several cancer clusters among aviators. At Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., for example, four of seven past commanding officers died of cancer in a three-year span.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who introduced the bipartisan bill June 23 with Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, said it marks “an important step to help us understand what’s happening and how we can better protect our military aviators.”
The Air Force finalized plans this spring to study on cancer rates among its aviators, an effort that reportedly would include reviewing pilots who served as far back as 1970. The bill notes that there has never been a DoD-wide study on the issue.
Along with requiring DoD to maintain a database documenting cancer diagnoses and mortality of all military aviators, the bill would require such a study, in two parts:
- To determine whether aviators have a higher incidence of cancer than others in the general population in similar age groups.
- If a higher incidence is found, to determine what’s causing the increase. This would involve a deeper look at hazardous materials and carcinogens common to aviation duty, and an analysis of whether cases are connected to specific duty locations or tasks, among other requirements.
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“The idea that military aviators could be suffering adverse health effects from their service to our country is alarming and demands further investigation,” Cornyn said in a news release announcing the bill, S. 4043. “This legislation would help determine if an outsized population of air crew members is developing illnesses like cancer, and if so, what the cause is and how we can stop it.”
A similar bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives – introduced by Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a retired Navy commander, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a lieutenant colonel and aviator in the Wisconsin Air National Guard – would require DoD to study cancer rates among aviators compared with those of other servicemembers, and to determine proper ages for screening aviators based on a range of criteria, including age, gender, and aircraft type.
That bill, H.R. 5858, was introduced Feb. 12 and assigned to the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) the same day. No further action on the bill has been taken by the chamber, although a section in the House's version of the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act includes language requiring a similar comparison between cancer rates for aviators and other servicemembers.