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Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

Representing the 25th District of New York

Slaughter Responds to National Report about the Department of Defense Failing to Protect Servicemembers from Exposure to Blasts

December 20, 2016
Press Release
Slaughter has led the effort to protect our men and women in uniform from potential brain injuries

WASHINGTON, DC — Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (NY-25), who has led the fight to get the Department of Defense (DoD) to take immediate action to better protect servicemembers from exposure to blast overpressure, responded to a new national report released today that found the department has failed to implement a program to protect our men and women in uniform. Blast overpressure is the leading cause of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the signature injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where millions of Americans have been deployed. Although the DoD has developed technology that can detect and collect this data on blast overpressure – the first step in understanding the long-term impacts of this exposure – the department is refusing to create a standing program to utilize this equipment on the battlefield and in training environments. This failure to collect the necessary data to understand the depth of this occupational hazard means the department is failing to protect servicemembers from the invisible wounds of war.

“It is baffling and very disappointing that the Department of Defense is digging in its heels and refusing to use a tool it created to track the health of our soldiers. The department’s failure to track blast overpressure is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s approach to cancer research and the National Football League’s slow response to CTE. Our men and women in uniform risk their lives for our country every single day. They deserve more from the Department of Defense,” said Slaughter.

From players in the National Football League to our Armed Forces serving on the battlefield, research has shown that trauma from concussions and blast overpressure exposure harms the brain with long-lasting and severe effects, including everything from TBI to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The data has even outlined a relationship between PTSD and exposure to non-concussive blast overpressure during activities like heavy weapons training. In some instances, a servicemember’s exposure to this overpressure has resulted in the development of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease most well-known for affecting former football players.

The DoD has developed and purchased technology to collect and analyze overpressure data to better understand the true depth of this problem. However, the department is refusing to implement these tools with deploying units or during in training environments where the prevalence of this exposure is particularly high.

In April, Slaughter wrote to Secretary Carter and General Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asking the DoD to begin using this technology to provide more data on potential injuries caused by blast overpressure. In a response in May, the department failed to commit to doing so.

As a result, Slaughter again wrote to Secretary Carter in September demanding immediate action to protect our men and women in uniform from potential brain injuries. In a recent response from Army Secretary Eric Fanning, the DoD again failed to commit to deploying this technology despite the overwhelming scientific evidence outlining the risks posed by blast overpressure. As a result, servicemen and women here at home and abroad will not be able to benefit from life-saving access to health information they need to treat the long-term effects of blast exposure, including CTE.