Press Release

April 11, 2024
Senators Announce Bipartisan Bill to Mitigate Blast Overpressure and Protect Service Members

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, introduced the Blast Overpressure Safety Act – bipartisan legislation that would direct the Department of Defense (DoD) to enact a variety of measures to help mitigate and protect service members from blast overpressure. Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) will introduce the bill in the House of Representatives.

During just three months in 2023, DoD provided treatment to service members 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 the long-term exposure to explosive weapons.” Researchers in Afghanistan also determined that, “75 percent of the troops’ [blast] exposure was coming from their own weapons.” Despite this, service members continue to train with weapons with unsafe blast levels. 

“America’s service members risk their lives in defense of our country and democracy. It is our duty to take care of these men and women when they are injured in the line of duty,” said Senator Cardin. “I am proud to work with my colleagues to introduce this important bipartisan legislation to help mitigate the risks of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and help those suffering from TBIs get the treatment they need. Maryland is the proud home to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and this legislation will establish the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed to specifically treat TBIs.”

“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.” 

“As Traumatic Brain Injuries have tragically become the signature wound of this generation of servicemembers, more must be done to ensure they do not go undiagnosed and untreated,” said Senator 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.”

“I partnered with Senators Warren and Ernst on this bipartisan bill to protect American service members from the often overlooked dangers of traumatic brain injuries and blast overpressure. By ensuring regular health assessments and access to care, mitigating exposure, and providing greater transparency in our military’s equipment procurement process, we can safeguard the health and wellbeing of the brave men and women who serve our country,” said Representative Khanna. 

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, Angus King (I-Maine), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Senator Rick Scott said, “Our servicemembers put everything on the line to ensure we are safe—they deserve proper care while serving our country and following their service, and as Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, this is my top priority. I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce the Blast Overpressure Safety Act to ensure our brave servicemembers have the proper procedures in place to prevent traumatic brain injuries and help them live healthy lives.”

“Far too many servicemembers suffer traumatic brain injuries and other head-related trauma while serving, and not enough is done to research, prevent, mitigate, and track these injuries,” said Senator Hirono. “I’m proud to support this legislation to better understand and prevent these injuries, and help ensure our servicemembers and veterans can get the care they need.” 

“Traumatic brain injuries (TBI) from explosive weapons — used both in the field and in training exercises — are common yet misunderstood, and they are affecting the health and quality of life of our service members and veterans. In Maine, we know all too well the horrible tragedies that can occur, like in Lewiston, when TBIs are left untreated,” said Senator King. “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. We owe it to the Lewiston victims and their families to expand research, provide TBI care, and follow the data and science of preventable brain damage. It’s the least we can do, and I thank my colleagues from both sides of the aisle for their work to address this critical and preventable issue.”

“The high rate of traumatic brain injuries among military personnel is deeply concerning,” said Senator Kaine. “This critical legislation would take important steps in protecting servicemembers from blast overpressure and expanding access to treatment for impacted veterans and servicemembers. As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will continue to do all that I can to protect and support those who serve our country.” 

“The increase in traumatic brain injuries we’re seeing among servicemembers is unacceptable, and we must be doing more to protect our troops from this serious medical issue,” said Senator Duckworth. “We owe it to our servicemembers and Veterans to ensure that they are not only getting the care they need for these traumatic injuries, but also that we’re doing everything we can to limit exposure to often-preventable blast overpressure. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation today to help achieve those goals by better detecting traumatic brain injuries, improving research and increasing transparency regarding the weapons servicemembers use that can add to this risk.”

“Brain health is critical to ensuring servicemembers and veterans have the best quality of life possible,” said Senator Tillis. “TBIs resulting from blast overpressure and exposure to explosive weapons are a far too common occurrence for servicemembers, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. This bipartisan legislation enhances prevention measures for blast overpressure and supports life-saving treatment for TBIs and other brain injuries.”

The bill is endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project. 

“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, WWP. “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 a brain injury. WWP supports this bill, and we applaud the senators for their efforts to address this critical issue.”

Specifically, the Blast Overpressure Safety Act would: 

  • Mandate regular neurocognitive assessments over a service member’s career, including a baseline neurocognitive assessment before training.
  • Create blast overpressure exposure and TBI logs for all service members, which will be captured in their individual longitudinal exposure records.
  • Increase transparency regarding blast overpressure safety in the weapons acquisition process. DoD must consider the minimization of blast overpressure during the acquisition process, require contracting entities to provide blast overpressure safety data, and publish blast overpressure safety data for weapons systems and its plans to better protect service members from in-use weapons systems.
  • Improve data on concussive and subconcussive brain injuries service members sustain. This includes information on discharges related to and medical providers trained in these injuries, as well as efforts with allies and partners to better address these injuries.
  • Enhance efforts to mitigate exposure and help service members access care. This includes retaliation protections for those who seek care; modifying existing weapons system to reduce blast exposure; updating and making publicly available blast overpressure thresholds and creating a waiver system for exceeding these thresholds; training high-risk service members to help them recognize exposure symptoms and creating strategies to mitigate their risk; and expanding the types of technologies in the Warfighter Brain Health Initiative pilot blast monitoring program.
  • Support service member treatment by establishing a Special Operations Comprehensive Brain Health and Trauma program, making the National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) a program of record and requiring DoD to provide childcare services to those seeking treatment there, and mandating training for medical and training personnel on blast overpressure and exposure and TBI.
  •  Mandate GAO review on DoD efforts to address blast exposure, protect service members from retaliation, and identify the most at-risk military occupational specialties.
  •  Implement DoD Inspector General (IG) recommendations from a 2023 report finding DoD does not consistently determine the care service members with TBI need.