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New study shows impacts of blast exposure on military members

Posted at 5:50 PM, Mar 27, 2023

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — The results of a new study are confirming the lasting impacts that military service can have on a person's health and wellness.

As part of the Millenium Cohort study, researchers surveyed 138,949 servicemembers exposed to blasts.

The veterans were separated by those exposed to high-level blasts and low-level blasts-- both repeatedly and at a lower volume.

Tod Neal was one of them.

He served our country on the front lines in Fallujah shortly after the U.S. re-took it for the second time.

"After 9/11, I went explosive ordnance disposal," said Neal.

He was deployed 10 times and six were combat tours.

While overseas he racked up more than 560 combat missions--defusing more than 340 IED's, 20 vehicle-borne IEDs and working to remove more than 24,500 explosive hazards from the battlefield.

"Initially, I didn't think they had any effect on me. I mean, unfortunately, you kinda enjoy it- something new. You see the blast wave ripple across the desert floor - thought it was cool but as I got older I started to notice I had some health effects," said Neal. "The study itself- just reading it- really solidified everything that every operator knows, but is scared to tell anybody."

The study's researcher Dr. Jennifer Belding explained traumatic brain conditions might come to mind first, but this study went a little further.

"We were able to look at 45 different health conditions so we really went beyond just the brain. The brain is a tremendously important one but to go a little broader was really important to us. So some of the findings that we show things like anemia," she said.

Other conditions were PTSD, seizures, and lupus.

For Neal, it was short-term memory lapses and vertigo.

"I've learned basic coping mechanisms - different patterns different ways to go about my day," he explained.

Now retired and coping with his diagnosis, the humble hero says he would do it all over again.

"I'm reminded that every IED that I took, every explosive hazard that I took off the battlefield saved someone's life," said Neal.

The Millenium Cohort study is also working with military spouses and family members as part of the ongoing study.