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Tuesday, May 21st, 2024

Blast Overpressure Safety Act introduced to demand better oversight of shockwave trauma from explosive weapons

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A new bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME) proposed protections for servicemembers by requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to pursue better blast overpressure screening, tracking, prevention and treatment measures.

Blast overpressure is the pressure caused by shockwaves above normal atmospheric pressure, generally caused by explosions or sonic booms. The Blast Overpressure Safety Act would require a host of protection measures – a potentially major need, given that DoD treatment nearly 50,000 servicemembers for related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the first three months of 2023 alone.

That same year, Pentagon researchers determined that 75 percent of troops exposed to blasts in Afghanistan were exposed by their own weapons.

“Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an all-too-often undetected or misdiagnosed condition that can have debilitating and tragic effects on our wounded servicemen and women,” Collins said. “If these injuries go undiagnosed or are left untreated, the consequences can be devastating. Our soldiers and veterans suffering from TBI as a result of their service deserve the best care and treatment our nation can provide. This bipartisan legislation will help improve critical research, accurate diagnosis, and lifesaving treatment for these heroes who serve and defend our nation.”

To address this, the bill would require regular neurocognitive assessments over the course of service members’ careers, beginning with a baseline assessment before training. Logs of blast overpressure exposure and TBI logs would also be created for all service members. The requirements would go all the way to the top, however, with a transparency push related to the weapons acquisition process that would see DoD consider minimizing blast overpressure outright.

Other requirements would focus on brain injury data, increased efforts to mitigate exposure and improve both care and access to it, and a mandated review of all of these efforts by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

“In Maine, we know all too well the horrible tragedies that can occur, like in Lewiston, when TBIs are left untreated,” King said. “The Blast Overpressure Safety Act will ensure that we better protect our servicemembers from the dangerous shockwaves produced by explosive weapons, and step up efforts to measure and treat the harm that can be done. This bill is a long overdue, common-sense step forward to expand access to care for those with traumatic brain injuries caused by their time in service.”

The Lewiston shooting referenced by King was a mass attack carried out by Robert Card in Lewiston, Maine, last year, which led to the death of 18 individuals and injuries to 13 more. Card has been a sergeant first class in the U.S. Army Reserve since 2002, but as reported after the attack, his hearing began to deteriorate in more recent years, leading to changes in his personality and declining mental health. After the attacks, he was found to have traumatic brain injuries commonly associated with veterans exposed to blasts.

The Blast Overpressure Safety Act was sponsored by U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rick Scott (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Ben Cardin (D-MD). It is also backed by the Wounded Warrior Project.