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Kaine & Colleagues Urge DOD to Prevent Traumatic Brain Injuries and Protect Servicemembers from Blast Exposure

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), joined a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to request a review of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) efforts to identify, prevent, and treat traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) related to servicemembers’ exposure to blast overpressure. In the letter, Kaine and his colleagues request more information about DOD’s strategy and plan to address this issue and urge DOD to take action to mitigate blast overpressure and protect our servicemembers.

“While the DOD has spent almost $3 billion on TBI research from fiscal year (FY) 2020 to FY 2023, major gaps remain in turning this research into action to better protect servicemembers’ brain health, particularly to mitigate the impact of blast exposure and overpressure on servicemembers,” the lawmakers wrote. “The Department needs to take more urgent action to mitigate blast overpressure and support servicemembers. Otherwise, troops will continue to struggle to get the care they need and deserve.”

TBIs are considered one of the “signature wounds” of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the course of just three months in 2023, the DOD provided TBI treatment nearly 50,000 times to servicemembers, and in 2022, this number exceeded 210,000 times. These injuries are a frequent result of blast overpressure and occur when the pressure from a shock wave exceeds normal atmospheric values, leading to the brain being damaged at a sub-cellular level from extreme movement. A New York Times 2023 report revealed that military personnel who fired vast numbers of artillery rounds while stationed overseas to fight the Islamic State had returned home experiencing nightmares, hallucinations, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation. The U.S. Marine Corps later found that firing a high number of rounds “could result in the artillery community suffering injuries faster than combat replacements can be trained to replace them.”

In February, Kaine raised concerns about blast overpressure and asked experts how the U.S. could learn from other nations about how to prevent and treat TBIs during a SASC Personnel Subcommittee hearing. In April, he introduced bipartisan legislation to mitigate and protect servicemembers from blast overpressure.

This letter is also signed by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21), Robert Garcia (D-CA-42),  Sanford Bishop (D-GA-02), Joseph Morelle (D-NY-25), Jared Golden (D-ME-02), Jimmy Panetta (D-CA-19), Chellie Pingree (D-ME-01), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Seth Moulton (D-MA-06), and Susie Lee (D-NV-03).

Full text of the letter can be found here.