Senators demand DOD answers on troops’ self-inflicted brain injuries

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A trio of senators want the Defense Department to speed up monitoring military brain injuries caused by concussive blasts from service members’ own weapons and outline efforts to protect the force from future trauma.

In a Jan. 18 letter sent to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the group — Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. — said recent research has shown disturbing damage to troops’ health from their own equipment.

One department study found cognitive deficits and memory problems among personnel who repeatedly fired heavy weaponry, even within allowable safety limits. The senators said another report noted that 75% of blast exposure issues in one unit researchers followed were tied to troops’ own weapons, rather than outside forces.

The issues were detailed in a New York Times investigation last fall. Nearly 500,000 troops have been diagnosed with some form of traumatic brain injury tied to military service since 2000, according to Defense Department statistics.

“These findings are particularly troubling since it could impact combat operations,” the senators wrote.

Lawmakers in 2019 approved language requiring the department to better document any potential brain injuries and concussions in troops’ health records. The three senators said that military officials have still not yet implemented that mandate, but have promised to comply soon.

The group is asking Pentagon leaders to detail their research and protection work on the issue, including whether blast gauges are being used to collect data on concussive blasts from firearms and coordination with Veterans Affairs officials on “blast overpressure” injuries.

Defense officials have not yet publicly responded to the request.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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