February 12, 2020

Warren, Ernst, Pascrell, Bacon Seek Update on DoD Efforts to Protect Servicemembers from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representatives Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Don Bacon (R-NE), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) requesting an update on their efforts to better prevent and protect servicemembers from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) through the documentation of blast exposure in servicemembers' medical history. The lawmakers' letter comes after 109 American servicemembers suffered TBIs following an Iranian missile strike on Al Asad Airbase housing U.S. troops in Iraq.

TBIs--disruptions in the normal function of the brain caused by a bump, blow, or sudden trauma to the head, or by repeated exposure to blast pressure--are a significant health issue that can have serious long- and short-term effects. While the symptoms may be minor, if left untreated, a TBI can have significant effects on cognitive ability or cause a permanent physical disability. Given their potential, repeated exposure to blast pressure and concussive forces as a result of improvised explosive devices or repeatedly firing artillery and other heavy-caliber weapons, servicemembers are particularly susceptible to TBIs. Since 2000, more than 400,000 servicemembers have sustained a TBI.

The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) included a provision that requires DoD to begin including blast exposure history in servicemember medical records. This will allow DoD to better track and potentially prevent blast pressure exposure and treat servicemembers who have suffered TBIs in combat or during training to mitigate any potential long-term effects.
"Given the potential serious long-term effects of TBIs, DoD must continue to take steps to protect and treat servicemembers who have been exposed to significant blast exposure," the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The lawmakers, citing recent reports detailing the injuries suffered by servicemembers and the need for improved treatment and understanding of TBIs, requested that Secretary Esper provide an update on the DoD's inclusion of blast exposure in medical records.

In May 2019, Senators Warren and Ernst introduced bipartisan legislation, the Blast Pressure Exposure Study Improvement Act, to improve research on TBIs among servicemembers and strengthen DoD's capacity to track and prevent blast pressure exposure. The legislation builds on an amendment Senator Warren introduced in the FY2018 NDAA that required DoD to establish a longitudinal medical study examining the effects of blast pressure exposure. It also follows previous bipartisan legislation that Senators Warren and Ernst introduced in 2018 that included provisions requiring DoD to review and update its guidance on blast exposure during training.