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Veterans with Brain Injuries from Heavy Weapons Training Face Concerns Over VA Coverage, Setbacks in Civilian Lives


Military veterans face significant risks when it comes to traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and the long-term, if not life-altering, impact they can have on their lives. These risks are most strongly associated with military veterans who served on tours of active duty during their military careers, and especially among vets who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, where a prevalence of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) made TBI the signature wound for vets who served in these conflicts. However, there is a now a growing focus on the brain injury risks associated with military veterans who participated in heavy weapons training, as well the difficulties they face in their post-service lives.

Military members who participate in heavy weapons training typically use shoulder-launched multipurpose assault weapons or SMAWs, rocket launchers, and other weaponry powerful enough burst eardrums for those who don’t wear military-grade hearing protecting. They also pose significant risks to the brain. According to studies, military troops that repeatedly fire powerful shoulder-launched weapons can experience concussion-like symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and short-term memory and thinking problems.

The Impact of Heavy Weapons & Artillery on the Brain

While the short-term effects of firing heavy weapons and artillery are obvious and well-known, the risks of long-term brain damage are less clear. However, as many veterans suspect, their post-service lives have been impacted by the lasting effects of using those heavy weapons. This is true of one veteran profiled by NPR, who along with fellow service members fired hundreds of SMAW rounds in training exercises across the world. As he notes, firing the weapon, which is powerful enough to blow up a tank, quickly lost its thrill and became exhausting on his body.

While the U.S. military does place limitations on the number of rounds troops can fire from heavy weapons in a single day, those limits are based on safety concerns involving hearing loss, not injury to the brain. Additionally, safety policies weren’t taken as seriously years ago, when troops would fire more rounds than allowed by the book. A culture that encouraged service members to shake off their injuries and a general lack of understanding about non-visible internal injuries also contributes to a potential for lasting harm.

Over the years, the Department of Defense has spent tremendous amounts of money studying military-related brain injuries. While research first focused on blast exposure and bombs like the IEDs used in Afghanistan and Iraq, it soon expanded to gauge the effects of field weapons like the SMAW. That research may prove beneficial to military veterans in the future, but to those who have been and are currently struggling with how those weapons affect their brains, many say the VA should be doing more.

Uncertainties About VA Coverage

Although many vets report TBI symptoms that impact their daily lives – from headaches, balance and orientation issues, and memory problems to difficulties concentrating and controlling emotions – the fact that they never suffered an obvious injury or were never in combat makes it unclear in the VA’s eyes whether they are entitled to care.

According to experts, the VA shortchanges vets in these categories by focusing only on physical injuries and blasts that occur on active duty. While medical professionals would focus on treating a vet’s symptoms, regardless of how they may have been caused, current VA policies fall short in providing care, therapy, and resources to help vets improve their lives, simply because they prioritize vets with medical issues clearly linked to their service. For many vets, that means that until more research becomes available, they are often forced to pay out of pocket for the care they need, or not receive any at all.

Fighting for Vets in Civilian Personal Injury Lawsuits

Our legal team at Biren Law Group is intimately involved in supporting military veterans and organizations like the MVAT Foundation which raise support and awareness for issues faced by vets in their civilian lives. This includes our representation of veterans who are injured in preventable accidents as civilians, and who experience setbacks associated with service-connected issues such as TBI. Because the struggles these vets face are real and profound, we are passionate about protecting their rights and interests, and to helping them seek special damages in their personal injury cases.

If you would like more information about the rights of veterans in personal injury lawsuits, or wish to discuss a potential case anywhere throughout Los Angeles or Southern California, contact us to speak with a member of our team. Consultations are free and confidential.