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Lawmakers from both parties are planning to introduce a comprehensive bill in Congress known as the Blast Overpressure Safety Act, which aims to force the military to track and limit troops’ exposure to damaging shock waves from firing their own weapons for the first time. Research suggests that repeated exposure to blasts can cause microscopic brain injuries that can lead to serious mental health issues, such as mood swings, substance abuse, and suicide. The bill would require the military to record individual blast exposures and provide neurocognitive tests to detect possible injuries, as well as train medical personnel to recognize blast-related injuries.

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Joni Ernst, along with Representative Ro Khanna, are leading the effort to introduce the bill in Congress. They argue that the Defense Department is not meeting its responsibilities to prevent traumatic brain injuries caused by blasts, and urgent action is needed to address this issue. The bill would also mandate changes in how new weapons are designed, as some current weapons produce shock waves that are more powerful than deemed safe under current guidelines. It would require the military to reduce the strength of blasts from existing weapons and consider minimizing brain-damaging waves in new acquisitions.

Currently, the military uses guidelines for blast intensity that are considered flawed and not based on evidence, leading to many troops being exposed to dangerous levels of blasts. The bill would require the military to update these guidelines and publicly post blast intensity data for weapons, ensuring greater transparency and accountability. Senators Warren and Ernst have previously introduced laws related to blast exposure, but the military’s response has been slow and bureaucratic, with few changes made to protect troops in the field. The bill seeks to address these shortcomings and implement necessary protections for service members.

Exposure to blast waves can have a devastating impact on military personnel, especially those who work with heavy weapons. Career soldiers often experience the most exposure and may begin to exhibit symptoms of brain injury late in their careers, which can be misunderstood as misconduct rather than a medical issue. Those affected are often punished, discharged from the military, and denied veterans’ medical benefits, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive legislation to address this issue. The Blast Overpressure Safety Act would require an outside audit to assess the military’s efforts to address blast exposure risks, identify occupations most at risk, and evaluate whether troops seeking help for injuries face retaliation.

In response to mounting pressure from lawmakers, the Defense Department has outlined new regulations and training initiatives aimed at reducing blast exposure and ensuring the health and well-being of service members. However, soldiers and Marines working with heavy weapons report seeing few changes in the field, indicating that more needs to be done to protect troops. Senator Warren has emphasized the importance of taking immediate action to address the risks associated with blast exposure, especially given the potential long-term consequences for service members’ mental health. The bill aims to build on previous legislation and ensure that the military prioritizes the well-being of its personnel by addressing the dangers of repeated blast exposure.

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