Pentagon begins outreach program on explosion risks from weapons use


The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have launched an aggressive outreach campaign in the wake of growing evidence of the potential health risks troops face from exposure to explosions from their own weapons.

The government has contacted thousands of veterans, notified veterans services offices in all 50 states of potential injuries, and created a website for veterans and health care providers with the latest research on blast exposure. and a fact sheet on how to recognize the brain injuries that may result.

The measures came in response to a New York Times report that detailed brain injuries troops had suffered from intensive weapons fire.

In recent years, Congress has directed the military to begin studying and tracking potential risks from weapons explosions and created an office to coordinate research and security.

“Taking care of our people is a top priority for the department, and leaders are absolutely committed to the health and safety of our service members, including protecting them from the unnecessary impacts of blast exposure,” a spokeswoman said. of the Department of Defense in a statement.

The Times report, based on interviews with dozens of veterans who fired thousands of artillery rounds in the offensive against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria in 2016 and 2017, found that for years the military had failed to acknowledge that troops were being damaged by the explosion. exposure. It also showed that leaders had overlooked or ignored troops who returned home with brain injuries and, in some cases, had punished affected troops who could no longer meet standards and stripped them of health care benefits. veterans.

After the findings were released, the Department of Veterans Affairs also took a series of actions. He alerted thousands of veterans who served during the offensive against the Islamic State that injuries caused by weapons explosions could be treated at veterans hospitals, and contacted several veterans who had been excluded from benefit coverage.

One veteran, Andrew Johnson, a former Army sergeant in an artillery unit, returned home from deployment consumed by confusion, depression and uncontrollable mood swings. He was misdiagnosed by the military and became suicidal, then forced out of the service for making inappropriate comments and shoving another soldier.

The other-than-honorable discharge prevented him from qualifying for help from Veterans Affairs. Unable to hold a job or receive mental health care, she has been living in her car in Jackson, Mississippi, for almost a year.

After The New York Times reported its findings, top Veterans Affairs leaders communicated directly with the soldiers and Marines who appeared in the article, including Mr. Johnson. In late November, his case was reconsidered and the department deemed his service honorable, authorizing him to receive veterans' health care and a disability pension. He was also approved for housing benefits.

“The military made me believe it was all my fault,” Johnson said in an interview Wednesday. “It's hard, honestly, I couldn't understand what was going on.”

Speaking from his car, where he still sleeps while waiting for department approval for an apartment he found, Johnson often paused and lost his train of thought. “Being declared honorable, maybe now I can get some therapy,” he said.

Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary for Veterans Benefits Joshua Jacobs said in an interview that it was important to find veterans like Johnson and get them the help they need.

“We are trying to get to yes to help our veterans, and we will use every tool at our disposal to make that happen,” Jacobs said.

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