A major federal defense bill advanced by a Senate committee Friday includes an initiative spurred by the Lewiston mass shooting that aims to protect military members from brain injuries caused by blast exposures.

Maine’s congressional delegation has supported the proposal, known as the Blast Overpressure Safety Act. Its inclusion in the Senate’s broader defense bill is seen as a big step forward for the measure.

“The whole idea is to focus on what we now know is a serious problem, how we do this (blast) training, and also how we manufacture the weapons themselves,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said in an interview after a key committee vote Friday. “This is one of the very major steps. We feel good about this provision already being in the bill.”

However, the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act – which cleared the House on Friday in a partisan vote – does not include the Blast Overpressure Safety Act. The House defense bill also contains what Democrats are calling culture war “poison pills” that resulted in most Democrats voting “no.” The House has a Republican majority while the Senate is controlled by Democrats, so competing versions of the bill will need to be reconciled for final passage.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, was one of six House Democrats who voted in favor of the NDAA. But he said in a prepared statement that he does not agree with the “poison pills” and expects them to be stripped out of the final version of the bill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously voted the Senate bill out of committee on Friday, without “poison pills” and including the Blast Overpressure Safety Act, and it will later be taken up for action by the full Senate.


Both the Senate and House versions of the bill also include $1.43 billion for an additional DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer of the Navy, which would be built by Bath Iron Works.

King said if it does become law, the Blast Overpressure Safety Act would help protect members of the military from dangerous exposure to blasts during training. The bill would require brain testing to establish a baseline for each service member, establish training protocols to emphasize safety and change the design of weapons during their manufacture to lessen their impact during training.

Robert Card, the U.S. Army reservist who killed 18 people during Maine’s deadliest mass shooting in Lewiston in October, had been “exposed to thousands of low-level blasts” during years of grenade training in New York state, according to Army personnel records. A forensic analysis of Card’s brain tissue conducted by Boston University concluded that the brain injuries likely played a role in his declining mental health before the mass shooting. Card had been hospitalized in New York state for psychiatric reasons in July 2023.

Scientists have been studying for decades how concussions and lower-level impacts to the head cause brain damage, including exposure to frequent blows among professional football players.

King and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, co-sponsored the Senate version of the Blast Overpressure Safety Act, which was introduced by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

Collins, in a statement, said that “this bipartisan legislation will help improve critical research, accurate diagnosis, and lifesaving treatment for these heroes who serve and defend our nation.”


Maine’s House delegation – Golden and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, – co-sponsored the House version of the blast safety bill.

Pingree, in a statement, said that she’s “particularly encouraged” the Senate version contains the Blast Overpressure Safety Act.

“By tracking, managing and treating traumatic brain injuries in the military, this bill could potentially help prevent tragedies like the Lewiston mass shooting, and I sincerely hope we can get it passed in the NDAA,” Pingree said.

The U.S. military, separately, is working on developing new protocols to protect service members from brain injuries. But King said the protection needs to be codified into law to ensure that the military has permanent safety measures that won’t go by the wayside in future years.

“We’ve learned you have to keep after them,” King said. “The military is a big organization, and there’s always competing priorities.

The House bill includes many controversial provisions, such as restricting abortion access for military members and banning some LGBTQ+ health services for the military.

“Republicans filled the bill with poison pill amendments that restrict freedoms, promote LGBTQ+ discrimination and hate, and undermine climate mitigation efforts that military leaders themselves say are critical to our national defense,” Pingree said in a statement. “Thankfully, this bill is dead on arrival in the Democratic Senate.”

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