Shoulder-fired weapons use shows higher rates of TBI in veterans
A recent publication in the journal Neurology proposes that the repetitive use of shoulder-fired weapons, such as mortars and rocket-propelled grenades, may expose soldiers to the risk of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Conducting assessments on over 300 active duty soldiers before deployment, researchers discovered baseline indications of brain injury linked to the utilization of shoulder-mounted weapons. Troops with extensive exposure to these weapons displayed neurological abnormalities, including impaired memory and cognition. The study suggests that overpressure waves generated by firing heavy shoulder weapons could gradually inflict damage on brain tissue.
Dr. Rebecca Brenner, leading the study, emphasizes, “We identified clear physiological evidence of mild TBI associated with the use of heavy firearms. The repetitive concussive force has the potential to fracture axons and induce inflammation in the brain.”
Previous military research has already associated the use of shoulder weapons with chronic headaches, hearing loss, and other persistent neurological effects. This new study contributes objective evidence of associated brain damage.
Dr. Brenner notes, “While protective gear mitigates immediate physical impact, it doesn’t shield against potential physiological consequences to the brain. Our findings highlight the necessity for revised training protocols and improved helmets capable of absorbing rotational forces.”
Subsequent research will assess soldiers post-deployment for changes after exposure. Nonetheless, this preliminary evidence underscores the need for heightened prevention measures to minimize lifelong risks, ensuring both military readiness and veteran well-being. Given the profound and enduring impacts of traumatic brain injury, protecting troops from harm must be the paramount concern.
Despite evidence linking the use of these weapons to brain injuries, ongoing training persists, potentially contributing to a higher rate of dementia among veterans compared to the civilian population. A 2021 report by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed that nearly half a million American veterans are living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. It highlighted that among veterans with moderate to severe TBI, the risk of developing dementia increased by up to 49 percent.
Caring for veterans with dementia imposes a substantial financial burden on the VA health care system. Given these high numbers, it is imperative for the military to explore alternative training methods to reduce exposure resulting from firing these weapons. Additionally, there is a pressing need for increased dementia support for veterans and their families.