Bullets and shrapnel are no longer the biggest threat to U.S. troops. In fact, it's not even on the battlefields where most of the damage is done to our troops. Eighty percent of traumatic brain injuries in the military are caused by blunt impact sustained during training and in other non-deployed settings. The National Institute of Health estimates chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain injury caused by repeated blows to the head, is the result of these constant impacts.
If "chronic traumatic encephalopathy" sounds familiar, that's because it's the condition many retired NFL players struggle with in later years: CTE. Now that roads between the U.S. Military and the National Football League intersect, the NFL's helmet producer is stepping up to tackle the problem.
Every year, more and more deceased NFL players are found to have struggled with CTE. Meanwhile, four out of five U.S. military personnel who experienced post-traumatic stress are also found to suffer from CTE. That might be what prompted the medical staff at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to reach out to NFL helmet maker, VICIS, to see how they could team up.
"The main thing is the current combat helmets are ... not optimized for blunt impact protection and that's what football helmets are designed to do, protect against blunt impact," VICIS CEO and co-founder Dave Marver told the Associated Press. "And so what we're doing, rather than working to replace the shell of the combat helmet, which is good at ballistic protection, we're actually replacing the inner padding, which is currently just foam."
The U.S. Army and VICIS are using experimental technology, the same used by the Seattle Seahawks, to put what they learned working with the NFL to use for American troops.
"Most startup companies you have to stay focused and get your initial product out," says Marver, "but we felt so strongly about the need to better protect warfighters."
VICIS and the Army announced this initiative in the Spring of 2018 and estimate the new helmet should be tested and in the hands (and on the heads) of American troops within two years. VICIS' Zero1 football helmet ranks consistently high in player protection and laboratory test. That's the kind of technology the company will send to the U.S. Army's Natick Soldier Research, Development, and Engineering Center in its experimental models.
The focus on helmet safety in the NFL is the result of a rise of reported cases of CTE in deceased and retired NFL players. In response, the National Football League increased its investment in concussion research, tightened the rules surrounding concussed players on the field, and, along with the NFL Players Association, reviewed all the helmets used by NFL teams to reject designs that don't actually protect the wearer.
It starts with its padding system.
According to VICIS, the current helmets are designed to defend against ballistic weapons, but most of the military's head trauma is a result of blunt force impact during training. VICIS military helmets are able to cut the force inflicted on the wearer by half when compared to some of the helmets currently in use.
The current cost of a VICIS football helmet is $1,500.00 while the U.S. military's current helmet carries a smaller price tag of $322.00. Still, it's a small price to pay when compared to the cost of the VA caring for TBI-injured veterans over the course of a lifetime — an estimated $2.2 billion over ten years.
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