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From the Columbia Daily Tribune:

WASHINGTON — The much-maligned combat helmet worn by U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan sustained another blow Monday as engineers from MIT reported the headgear does little to protect troops from blast-related brain injury.

But the research team identified a design change that could substantially improve the helmet’s ability to reduce the risk of concussion: a face shield capable of deflecting the rippling force of an explosion from the soft tissues of the face.

With a shield in place, “you actually do mitigate the effects of the blast quite significantly,” said Raul Radovitzky, lead author of a study published Monday in the online version of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report was not the first to identify the shortcomings of the military’s advanced combat helmet.

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Traumatic brain injury, often called TBI or concussion, has become one of the most distinctive and intractable wounds sustained by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The armed services have diagnosed more than 188,000 cases to date among troops who have served in the Middle East.

Many experts think the true toll is far higher, since the effects of brain injury can be easy to miss. The Rand Corp. has estimated as many as 320,000 servicemen and women might have suffered brain injuries during their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Brain injuries stemming from explosions during combat appear similar to those sustained by civilians in car accidents, falls and sporting events.

In most cases, a soldier close to an explosion is thrown against a wall or to the floor, causing “brain whiplash,” said neurosurgeon Jam Ghajar, president of the Brain Trauma Foundation.

But for many troops, brain trauma appears to occur in the absence of a direct blow to the head. That mystery has left most experts guessing how the damage occurs.

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