May 07, 2018

Reform weapons training to protect US troops from brain injury

By Paul Scharre and Lauren Fish

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the signature wound of today’s wars, with nearly 380,000 servicemembers diagnosed since 2000. TBI can come from falls, bullets shrapnel, or the blast pressure wave that comes from explosions, such as from enemy improvised explosive devices (IEDs). New research has also shown that servicemembers may experience cognitive deficits after firing heavy weapons, such as shoulder-fired recoilless rifles, even in training.

Recent Department of Defense (DoD) studies have demonstrated that some servicemembers experience cognitive deficits in memory and executive function after firing heavy weapons in training, even within allowable firing limits. After 96 hours, cognitive functioning returned to baseline, but the long-term effect of repeat exposure is unknown. There is cause for concern.

Another DoD study found higher rates of concussion-associated symptoms among individuals with a history of prolonged exposure to low-level blasts from breaching and shoulder-fired weapons.

In other areas, such as sports, scientists are learning more about the harmful effects of repeated, low-level impacts on the brain. DoD animal studies have confirmed this relationship for blast waves, showing cumulative effects from repeated blast exposures over consecutive days. The authors of one DoD study concluded that repeated, low-level blast exposures was “a potential occupational medicine concern.”



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