When looking at traumatic brain injury, writers and researchers often focus on two groups of individuals highly prone to these injuries: athletes and soldiers. In fact, the focus on TBI in our nation’s troops has skyrocketed since our nation’s military involvement in the Middle East.
That focus is largely because TBI is the “signature wound” of soldiers and Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Troops exposed to improvised explosive devices, better known as IEDs, often suffer a TBI from the blast of these devices, even if they are not physically hit. In fact, 130,000 troops and other military personnel have sustained a TBI while serving in the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
Now, a new study has found that there is a simple, economic alternative that would dramatically decrease the risk of traumatic brain injury for our soldiers and Marines, and lessen the severity of the injuries when they do occur.
The study, conducted by physicist Willy Moss and mechanical engineer Michael King of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California, found that when soldiers wear a slightly larger helmet (about one size up) with an additional 1/8 of an inch in padding, traumatic brain injuries decrease by an astounding twenty-four percent. King was so struck by the simplicity of the finding that he told the media he was “almost embarrassed” by how simple improving safety had proved to be.
The study was funded by the Army and the Joint IED Defeat Organization (itself funded by the Army). It lasted a year, and looked at multiple helmet types: those with the type and scope of padding already in use in the military, two varieties used in the NFL, and one used in other sports.
The researchers used advanced computer modeling to compare the impact of IED blasts on each helmet type, and variations on each. Although the researchers found that the current Army helmet was most effective – due to the fact that it’s padding was less rigid and thus absorbed more force – they found that this slight modification would greatly improve effectiveness.
So what happens now? The test result will be reviewed by the Army and the Marine Corps, who will determine whether to take action, do further testing, or stick with the current model. The military researchers in charge of helmet design are slated to meet next month, to review this and other research.
Standing in the way of any safety improvements is the issue of weight – there is a common perception that soldiers and Marines object to any additional weight in their helmets, and the recommended changes would add around nine ounces to each helmet. However, not all soldiers are opposed to additional weight. For example, U.S. Special Forces soldiers interviewed at Tampa, Florida, reacted positively to the possibility of wearing larger helmets better-equipped to prevent TBI. Indeed, the extra weight is not burdensome – simply wearing one size larger in the current model would add this amount of weight.
Our top brain injury attorneys urge our military leaders to act on the simple but important findings of this study. Soldiers and Marines will easily adjust to the slight increase in weight. They cannot so easily adjust to the devastating consequences of traumatic brain injury.
We likewise hope that these findings will be reviewed by helmet manufacturers in other areas. These findings could be significant in the development of better helmets for the NFL, NHL, and, more importantly, youth and children’s bicycle and sporting helmets. We hope that those who develop these products take a close look at this study, and incorporate what they learn into developing better protection for all.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago brain injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.