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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Tester hears briefing on spy balloon, cancer cases among Malmstrom officers

Malmstrom Air Force Base main gate, 2008.
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Malmstrom Air Force Base main gate, 2008.

The U.S. Air Force Secretary and Montana’s senior U.S. Senator visited Malmstrom Air Force Base this week to get the latest on the response to rare cancers among missileers and the recent flyover of a Chinese surveillance balloon.

Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, was joined Wednesday by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall for the briefing. Tester says the Department of Defense is in the early stages of its investigation into reports of non-Hodgkin lymphoma among officers.

“I think they’re treating it very, very seriously and I think that is a very good sign,” Tester said.

Nine officers who worked decades ago at Montana’s nuclear missile base were diagnosed with cancer. According to military documents obtained by the Associated Press, there are indications the blood cancer may be linked to their service.

“Their aperture is quite large at this moment in time. It includes not just Malmstrom but the other two ground based missile bases. It includes agriculture exposures and other exposures,” Tester said. “They’re also of course looking at potential exposures within the base, within the silos, within the missile launch facilities. It’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Tester said if the science shows that the cancer is the result of serving on base, treatment would be covered by the recently signed PACT Act. The law expanded health care benefits to millions of veterans exposed to toxic substances.

According to the briefing Tester and Secretary Kendall received from Malmstrom officials, they are confident the Chinese surveillance balloon did not glean any information during its flyover of the base back in February.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
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