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Ernst, Warren Announce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Blast Overpressure and Protect Servicemembers

Requires Defense Department to enact better screening, tracking, prevention, and treatment

WASHINGTON U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation that would direct the Department of Defense (DoD) to help mitigate and protect servicemembers from blast overpressure.

During just three months in 2023, DoD provided treatment to servicemembers nearly 50,000 times for traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which are considered the “signature wound” of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. For troops with mild TBI, the most important cause of brain injury was long-term exposure to explosive weapons. Researchers in Afghanistan also determined that 75% of the troops’ blast exposure was coming from their own weapons. Despite this, servicemembers continue to train with weapons with unsafe blast levels. Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Ryan Larkin and Sgt. 1st Class Michael Froede are textbook examples of this issue. Despite enduring traumatic brain injuries throughout their arduous training and numerous combat missions, these injuries remained hidden from conventional MRI and PET scans. Tragically, both individuals succumbed to suicide due to the untreated wounds they carried.

“As traumatic brain injuries have tragically become the signature wound of this generation of servicemembers, more must be done to ensure these wounds do not go undiagnosed and untreated,” said Ernst, a combat veteran. “Through my bipartisan work in previous defense authorization bills, the military has made strides in diagnosis and treatment of TBI to help servicemembers protect against the effects of blast overpressure. However, given the increase in these injuries, the military must adapt to the needs of servicemembers now. By helping the DoD learn more about the brain and how it responds to blast overpressure, this bipartisan bill can help meet the challenges and injuries of our servicemembers today and in the future. Specifically, our action will help protect our warfighters and honor the servicemembers tragically impacted by TBI by assessing members of our armed forces regularly, mitigating their exposure, and enhancing their access to care.”

“Too many of our service members are suffering the health consequences of blast overpressure, so we need real change to our approaches to prevent these injuries and protect our service members in training and combat,” said Senator Warren. “My bipartisan bill will tackle these pressing challenges from every direction – creating better transparency and brain health tracking, expanding efforts to mitigate exposure and provide treatment, and ensuring accountability that our military is supporting impacted service members.”

“Brain health plays a crucial role in many veterans’ overall quality of life. Head-related trauma, including traumatic brain injury (TBI), is sometimes referred to as the ‘signature injury’ for post-9/11 veterans due to the increased TBI prevalence among veterans of this generation. Wounded Warrior Project’s (WWP’s) 2022 Annual Warrior Survey found that 36.5% of WWP warriors self-reported experiencing TBI due to military service,” said Jen Silva, Chief Program Officer, Wounded Warrior Project. “The Blast Overpressure Safety Act will help protect Service members from blast overpressure and TBI; improve research and data collection regarding brain health and safety; and expand access to effective treatments and support for veterans with brain injury. WWP supports this bill, and we applaud Senators Warren and Ernst for their efforts to address this critical issue.”

Specifically, the Blast Overpressure Safety Act would increase screening, tracking, prevention, and treatment by: 

  • Mandating regular neurocognitive assessments over a servicemember’s career, including a baseline before training;
  • Create blast overpressure exposure and TBI logs for all servicemembers and improve data on concussive and subconcussive brain injuries servicemembers sustain;
  • Require DoD to account for blast overpressure safety during the weapons acquisition process;
  • Enhance efforts to mitigate exposure and help servicemembers’ access care;
  • Support servicemember treatment by establishing a Special Operations Comprehensive Brain Health and Trauma program and mandating training for medical and training personnel on blast overpressure and exposure and TBI.