VA study shows that close-range blast exposure affects cognitive functioning


Bomb blasts cause an estimated 78 percent of combat injuries from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn (OEF/OIF/OND). A group of 333 Veterans who returned from these operations participated in a VA Boston study that evaluated their cognitive functions, psychiatric diagnoses and history of military and non-military brain injury.

Boston VA Healthcare System doctors Regina McGlinchey and William Milberg led the Translational Research Center for TBI and Stress Disorders (TRACTS) study that investigated the relationship between close proximity to detonated blast munitions and cognitive functioning in OEF/OIF/OND Veterans.

The results, published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, showed that Veterans who were close to a blast during service (10 meters or less) performed more poorly on a test of memory than did Veterans who were never that close to a blast.

Lead author, Dr. Laura Grande, said these injuries are not always accompanied by symptoms of concussion, such as a loss of consciousness, a memory gap for the blast, or feelings of confusion in the immediate aftermath of the blast.

“We found the impairment in memory could not be explained by the number of symptomatic concussions an individual sustained over his/her lifetime and was, instead, driven largely by close exposure to a blast.”

Study lead, Dr. Regina McGlinchey, said the participants were assigned to a close-range blast exposure group or a non-close-range blast exposure group, depending on whether they were exposed to at least one blast within 10 meters.

“We compared their performance on tests of memory, verbal fluency and complex attention. We took into account factors that can influence cognitive functioning, including age, education, whether someone had been diagnosed with PTSD or a substance abuse disorder, and/or experienced sleep problems or suffered from chronic pain. We found that the close-range blast exposure group showed poorer performance on memory functioning, as well as significantly higher rates of clinical impairment when compared to the non-close-range blast exposure group,” McGlinchey said.

To read more about this study, , go to the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society’s website.

About the author: Kathryn Bienfang is a public affairs officer for VA New England Health Care System’s research program. 


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  1. Danny East    

    What was the “blast wave” level of those incidents? Any research done on previous wars? World War Two called it “Shell Shock”. What is the level of exposure that is considered to have long lasting effect on the human body? Were not bomb and ammunition dumps destroyed in one huge explosion during the Vietnam War?

    The Bomb Dump at Chu Lai Air Base in Vietnam exploded on Tet of ’68 which was later determined to have a Blast Wave of 7 Kilotons, short of the 9 Kiloton wave that went over Hiroshima. Any one care to have examined those statistics to compare what happens at more than 10 meters?

  2. David R. James    

    Has anyone considered the effect of the “blast” from outgoing artillery and whether there are any similar concussion effects found in artillerymen? The pressure from outgoing artillery effected lighted candles during fire missions. What effect does everyday exposure to those “blasts” have on artillerymen?

    1. AJ Barnes    

      I also have a concern about damage caused by proximity to outgoing artillery. At times the artillery were set up close to a road. Those driving or walking nearby could be caught unprepared when a “shot” was fired. This particular article did not address hearing loss caused by exposure to artillery outgoing or incoming. A hearing loss could later make a veteran appear to be confused and mentally slow.

  3. Gene Stewart    

    Has this study been given to any Vietnam Veterans? We were taking a wounded Marine out to a Helicopter and hit a mine and blew the tracks off the tank and blew me about 30 feet in the air. I am 69 years old now and have a hard time remembering a lot of things. I depend on my wife a lot to remember things and she is complaining that I am wearing her memory out. Yes I have PTSD, but I don’t know how much the blast has affected me. Thank you for this information.

  4. Larry Boyce    

    I was stationed on LZ Crunch in 69-70 we had 8in&175mm self propelled guns, when the turned the guns to fire over the LZ they blew the screens out of my hootch! Other times it just shock the shit out of you, I’d suggest a study be done on Vietnam Artillary Batteries!!
    Spc/5 Larry Boyce
    C Bty 3/18

  5. Tom Hanson    

    This is certainly interesting and I agree with the other comments, particularly Vietnam veterans. I suppose the study of veterans of Iraqi Freedom are more current to study and us old codgers from Vietnam, but I would have thought this was somewhat intuitive. The older I get the more dubious I am that the decision makers are not using delay tactics to keep from paying disability for as long as possible. We were lied to going into Vietnam and even more going into Iraq and the never ending wars.

  6. Joe B    

    Check out Dr Mark Gordon with Millennium Health at He and Andrew Marr ( a wounded Green Beret) with the Angel Warrior Foundation have been addressing this issue for a few years with amazing results via his nutraceutical protocol. Many testimonials from (broken to fixed) Vets on his web page. Please watch this documentary trailer – titled Quiet Explosion. Full length movie coming out next year. Dr Gordon and Andrew can also be seen and heard discussing complex details about this issue on two separate Joe Rogan podcasts. #700 and #1056. Andrew and His brother Adam, also wrote a book called – tales from the blast factory. Kathryn Bienfang, you should have your VA physicians reach out to Dr Gordon and Andrew.

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