Ernst and Warren Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Improve Servicemember Blast Exposure Injury Prevention

Legislation Also Strengthens Research on Traumatic Brain Injuries Faced by Hundreds of Thousands of Military Members

Bill Text | One Pager

Washington, DC - United States Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today introduced the bipartisan Blast Exposure and Brain Injury Prevention Act of 2018.  The legislation would improve research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) among servicemembers and strengthen the Department of Defense's (DOD) capacity to track and prevent blast pressure exposure.  Since 2000, more than 370,000 servicemembers have received a first-time diagnosis of traumatic brain injury, in many cases due to the use of improvised explosive devices (IED) in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Traumatic brain Injury (TBI) is a nearly invisible, yet very serious physical trauma with long-term effects that has become prevalent among hundreds of thousands of servicemembers in recent years," said Senator Ernst, a combat veteran. "As a grateful nation, it is our job to ensure the safety and health of our men and women in uniform as they defend our country. The Blast Exposure and Brain Injury Prevention Act addresses the serious threat posed by TBI in combat and in training, and will provide the Department of Defense with greater guidance to treat, but most importantly prevent, TBI."

"America owes our brave men and women in uniform the very best care we can give them," Senator Warren said. "We know that many servicemembers exposed to blasts during combat and training later experience long-term brain injury. We need to better understand how to prevent and treat blast exposure in order to give our servicemembers the care they need and deserve."

While TBI is often associated with blunt physical injuries to the head, recent research has shown that the blast wave produced by even minor explosions can result in TBI-even if the individual does not exhibit outward physical signs of head injury. Blast overpressure - the pressure caused from a shock wave that exceeds normal atmospheric values - causes harm to the brain not just by moving the brain around inside the skull, but also by damaging the brain at the sub-cellular level.

Exposure to blast pressure may result not only from battlefield IEDs, but also from smaller concussive events such as firing artillery and other heavy-caliber weapons, which military personnel may do multiple times a day, over multiple days at a time, while training to use these weapons.  Although research has demonstrated that exposure to blast pressure can damage the brain, scientists' ability to longitudinally track these effects and understand variation in health outcomes is constrained by the limited data collected on soldiers' exposure to blast pressure events during their military service.

The Blast Exposure and Brain Injury Prevention Act of 2018 would address these issues by improving research on traumatic brain injury, speeding the development of therapies to treat TBI, and enabling the DOD to better track and prevent blast pressure exposure.  Specifically, the legislation directs the DOD to submit a plan for accelerating research on therapies for TBI and PTSD, and to include detailed documentation of blast exposure - during both combat and training - in military service records.  The bill would also require the DOD to review and update its guidance on blast exposure during training, and establish a research and development program to improve the efficacy of personal protective equipment.