SMITHFIELD, Va. — Hawaii may be nearly 5,000 miles away from Hampton Roads. However, an issue that arose in the state is impacting military families here at home and around the country.
Pat Maben, a U.S. Army Major from Hampton Roads, is leading the charge to try and get help for the veterans, and their family members, who were impacted by a water crisis at a military base in Hawaii.
“This has affected my heart, and the joy that I was wanting in our retirement years,” said Pat.
Pat and her husband, Joey, look for serenity around their Smithfield home. But lately, they say it’s been challenging to find.
“As a parent, we’re supposed to take care of our children [and] protect them, and when that’s taken out of your hands, it’s very tough,” Joey added.
Their daughter is Maj. Amanda Feindt.
“I come from a long line of military leaders in my family,” Feindt said.
After growing up in Hampton Roads, Feindt has lived around the globe with her husband and two young kids. She often looks back on the two years they spent stationed in Hawaii. However, shortly after moving there in May 2021, Feindt said she and her family immediately started feeling sick.
“We were constantly feeling nauseous,” she said. “We had diarrhea, fatigue, and we just couldn’t figure out what was going on with us. We just couldn’t shake it.”
She said this continued into November when her parents visited and also got sick.
“I came home, thought I had a bad case of COVID-19. That was ruled out. In a total of nine days, I lost 11 pounds. And then my family started getting sick, developing skin rashes over their bodies,” said Pat.
Eventually, Feindt said her family ended up in a hospital.
“We were evacuated from our home for a little more than three months, shuffling between seven different hotel rooms,” she said.
Feindt has since linked her family’s issues to incidents involving a bulk fuel storage facility in Hawaii known as “Red Hill.”
According to , in late November 2021, hundreds of families living on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Army’s Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill housing reported petroleum odors from residential tap water supplied by the U.S. Navy water system.
Feindt said she and her family lived on Historic Ford Island, part of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The EPA said residents reported health issues stemming from the contaminated drinking water, and in total, 93,000 U.S. Navy water system users were impacted.
“There may be some of those folks in the Hampton Roads area,” Joey said.
News 3 reached out to officials with the Hampton VA Medical Center about whether they’re treating veterans impacted by this.
A spokesperson for the Hampton VA told News 3 that currently, there have been no testing recommendations or long-term presumptive conditions attributed to this incident they’ve been made aware of, and they’re not aware of any cases of acute exposure from that incident continuing to require care.
“Maybe if someone sees this [who was] out there… maybe they were experiencing some illnesses that they didn’t have,” Pat said.
EPA officials say the source of the petroleum was at the nearby bulk fuel storage facility built in 1943 which contaminated the Red Hill well: one of the Navy’s sources for the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam drinking water system.
Feindt has documented her family’s journey and said they still have health issues she believes come from their time on the island.
“I had two or three things on my medical record in 17 years of being in the service, and now, there’s about 13,” Feindt said.
“We know, just watching our grandkids go through all of their medical tests that no one wants to go through, that there possibly could be long effects from this,” Joey said.
News 3 found of the incidents published in June 2022.
Adm. William Lescher, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, said, in part, in a letter after reviewing the subject investigation, “The contamination of drinking water from the Red Hill Shaft was the result of the Navy’s ineffective immediate responses to the 6 May and 20 November 2021 fuel releases at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (Red Hill), and failure to resolve with urgency deficiencies in system design and construction, system knowledge, and incident response training. These deficiencies endured due to seams in accountability and a failure to learn from prior incidents that falls unacceptably short of Navy standards for leadership, ownership, and the safeguarding of our communities.”
News 3 contacted the Department of Defense about whether similar facilities like Red Hill are still in use, and if any are located in Hampton Roads.
A DoD spokesperson told News 3 there are storage tanks built around the time of Red Hill, but none are located in the Hampton Roads region.
Meanwhile, Feindt has spent roughly two years speaking up about Red Hill.
“She’s willing to give up her career for this,” Pat said.
“I’ve been charged with a duty to speak up when my brothers and sisters in arms have been harmed, and that’s what’s happened here,” Feindt said.
Feindt has made several trips to Capitol Hill asking for a congressional hearing and advocating for medical care, benefits, and transparency for military families.
This past March, she became one of the first three active-duty service members to file legal injury claims against the federal government related to Red Hill.
“We are not going to stop fighting this thing,” Feindt said. “It’s too important.”
“They feel like it’s turned into another Camp Lejeune,” Pat said. “These people are fearful of what is inside their bodies and how it’s going to affect them in the future.”
A DoD spokesperson also News 3, in March 2022, the Secretary of Defense directed to de-fuel and permanently shut down the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility.
As for the Mabens, they hope military families in Hampton Roads can support them in their family’s journey.
“We’re a big military community,” Joey Maben said. “Let’s get it done and take care of our own, and make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
When asked about Feindt’s and other service members’ legal claims filed earlier this year, News 3 was told the DoD can’t comment on pending litigation.
A spokesperson for Joint Task Force Red Hill told News 3, in terms of de-fueling the Red Hill facility, with approval from both the EPA and Hawaii Dept. of Health, that’s supposed to be complete by June 2024.