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Even New Army Helmets Don’t Prevent Brain Injuries

As part on an ongoing effort to protect servicemembers from serious injury, the army recently revealed the prototype of a new helmet that was specifically designed to prevent traumatic brain injuries (TBI). The Conformal Integrated Protective Headgear System includes a jaw protector and face visor to provide a more comprehensive level of safety for the soldier. However, despite the efforts of developers, testers determined that the helmets may prove more harmful than protective.

According to an article in The Blaze, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) determined that the changes to the helmet, while more protective of the face, are not adequate in protecting the head from the potentially devastating effects of a blast. In conducting the tests, researchers used gelled test dummies. After equipping them with the helmets, explosives were set off from a distance to simulate the the types of blasts that a soldier may encounter during battle. The findings showed that the resulting pressure on the brain was not significantly decreased.

The second part of the test involved dropping the helmets from a 23-foot tower to test the impact of blunt force in the units. The level of impact was measured based on the height of bounce off the ground. Researchers found that, even when the pressure was successfully decreased in one section of the brain, it was simultaneously increased in other areas. This pressure leads to TBIs.

According to a report in the Army Times, the helmets failed in the following ways:

***The visor and jaw protector created higher levels of pressure on the forehead
***The pressure on the forehead from a frontal blast was doubled when the visor was used, compared to when it was not
***During the rear-facing blasts, forehead pressure was doubled when the visor and jaw protector were utilized

As stated in the research report, the ultimate goal will combine protection of the jaw and face with the prevention of increased pressure on the head. Daniel Mott is an NRL aerospace engineer. He is quoted in the article as stating, “Significant research efforts characterizing the effect of blast loading on helmet-head geometries have been pursued in order to understand, predict and ultimately mitigate Traumatic Brain Injury.”

TBI Injuries in the Military

TBIs are serious, resulting in long term injuries and potential death. The Department of Defense states that, during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, 73% of all United States soldier fatalities resulted from explosive weapons. In addition, there were more than 5,500 soldiers suffering from brain injuries as January 2008.

According to the website, military.com, TBIs are considered the “signature wound of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” Disability compensation amounts for TBIs demonstrate the level of seriousness involved with this medical condition. For more serious cases, soldiers are eligible for 100% disability. While veterans may receive compensation for their injuries, civilians often need to seek the assistance of the legal system for compensation.

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