Hundreds of thousands of soldiers may be damaging their brains during shooting practice, long before they even make it to the battlefield, a new report warns.
Scores of military members are required to train with bazooka-like rifles, which sit on one shoulder and produce an explosion next to their head as its rocket is released.
Today, a US Army-commissioned report concluded those blasts also trigger the release of dangerous proteins in the brain which pave the way to crippling brain diseases in later life.
While the current military helmets provide some protection, the authors said other models could protect the brain much better - reducing damage by up to 80 percent.
Ultimately, however, they say the Army should impose more firing limits, cutting the amount that can be fired in 24 hours, since our understanding of brain injury risks has amplified dramatically since 2010, when the last firing limits were designed.
'When you fire it, the pressure wave feels like getting hit in the face,' Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger who co-authored the report by the Center for a New American Security, told NPR.
'If you're looking at a large anti-tank rocket that a soldier would carry on his or her shoulder, that's now a pretty large explosion — and it's happening right next to your head.'
The Department of Defense started tracking traumatic brain injury in the early 2000s, and has since recorded more than 380,000 cases. The rate of related PTSD cases is climbing rapidly.
Much like the NFL, the Army has been grappling to deal with the increasingly far-reaching issue of impact-related brain injuries for the past few years.
Before finding concrete evidence about tackles and head injuries, Boston University's team of neuropathologists published a paper showing soldiers exposed to bomb blasts in Afghanistan had a higher risk of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which causes dementia, suicidal thoughts and aggression.
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