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April 11, 2024

King, Collins Co-Sponsor Bipartisan Bill to Protect Service Members from Shockwave Trauma Produced by Explosive Weapons

The Blast Overpressure Safety Act Would Require Defense Department to Enact Better Blast Overpressure Screening, Tracking, Prevention, and Treatment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Angus King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), and Susan Collins, Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Defense, are cosponsoring a bipartisan bill to better protect service members from the physical and cognitive dangers of shockwaves produced by explosive weapons used both in combat and in training. The Blast Overpressure Safety Act would direct the Department of Defense (DoD) to enact a range of measures to help mitigate and protect service members from blast overpressure. Blast overpressure is the pressure caused by a shockwave above normal atmospheric pressure and is most commonly caused by explosions or sonic booms.

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. 

“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.”

“Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is an all-too-often undetected or misdiagnosed condition that can have debilitating and tragic effects on our wounded servicemen and women.  If these injuries go undiagnosed or are left untreated, the consequences can be devastating,” said Senator Collins. “Our soldiers and veterans suffering from TBI as a result of their service deserve the best care and treatment our nation can provide.  This bipartisan legislation will help improve critical research, accurate diagnosis, and lifesaving treatment for these heroes who serve and defend our nation.”

The bill is also 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 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.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rick Scott (R-FL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Following the Lewiston shooting, Senators King and Collins have been working together to increase mental health funding. In March, the entire Maine Delegation announced that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (Maine DHHS) would receive $2,048,452 through the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Emergency Response Grant program (SERG). The funding is used for community mental health needs in the greater-Lewiston community, following the shooting that claimed the lives of 18 individuals and wounded 13 others. The delegation also sent a follow-up letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of the Army, Lieutenant General Donna W. Martin, to further press for a comprehensive review of the facts and events leading up to the October 25 mass shooting.

Senator King has also introduced legislation to save lives and protect 2nd Amendment rights for all Maine people. The Gas-Operated Semiautomatic Firearm Exclusion (GOSAFE) Act addresses the lethal capacity weapons like the one used in Lewiston and most of the deadliest mass shootings across the country. More specifically, the bill protects communities from gun violence while safeguarding law-abiding Americans’ constitutional right to own a firearm for legitimate self-defense, hunting and sporting purposes.


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