Collins, Ernst offer bill to enhance DOD efforts around traumatic brain injuries

Bipartisan legislation unveiled on April 11 by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) would require improved brain health initiatives at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

Specifically, the Blast Overpressure Safety Act, S. 4109, would direct DOD to enact measures that would help mitigate and protect U.S. military service members from blast overpressure, which is most commonly caused by explosions or sonic booms and is responsible for a rising number of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) among U.S. service members.

“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,” Sen. Collins said. “Our soldiers and veterans suffering from TBI as a result of their service deserve the best care and treatment our nation can provide.”

Sen. Collins and Sen. Ernst are two of 11 original cosponsors of S. 4109, along with U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC). The measure is sponsored by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to clarify the roles and responsibilities within DOD related to subconcussive and concussive brain injuries, according to the congressional record bill summary.

“As traumatic brain injuries have tragically become the signature wound of this generation of service members, more must be done to ensure these wounds do not go undiagnosed and untreated,” said Sen. Ernst. “By helping the DOD learn more about the brain and how it responds to blast overpressure, this bipartisan bill can help meet the challenges and injuries of our service members today and in the future.”

If enacted, S. 4109 would mandate regular neurocognitive assessments over a service member’s career, including a baseline neurocognitive assessment before training, and create blast overpressure exposure and TBI logs for all service members, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Collins’ staff.

“Specifically, our action will help protect our warfighters and honor the service members tragically impacted by TBI by assessing members of our armed forces regularly, mitigating their exposure, and enhancing their access to care,” Sen. Ernst added.

Additionally, S. 4109 would increase transparency regarding blast overpressure safety in the weapons acquisition process, and improve data on concussive and subconcussive brain injuries sustained by service members, including information on discharges related to TBI, the summary says.

The measure also would improve efforts to mitigate exposure and help service members access care, and support service member treatment by establishing a Special Operations Comprehensive Brain Health and Trauma program, and mandating training for medical and training personnel on blast overpressure and exposure and TBI, among other provisions.

“This bipartisan legislation will help improve critical research, accurate diagnosis, and lifesaving treatment for these heroes who serve and defend our nation,” Sen. Collins said.

S. 4109 is supported by the Wounded Warrior Project.