An Invisible Epidemic

A concerning pattern of brain damage has been identified among Navy SEALs who have died by suicide, shedding light on the severe and often invisible impacts of their service. Research into the brains of these elite operators has revealed significant traumatic brain injuries (TBI) resulting from repeated exposure to blast waves, even in the absence of combat.

Navy SEALs are frequently exposed to blasts from their weapons, explosives used in breaching operations, and other high-impact activities. These repeated exposures can cause microscopic tears in brain tissue, leading to symptoms like memory loss, headaches, insomnia, and severe mood changes. Many of these symptoms mirror those commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Still, recent studies suggest that TBI may be a more accurate diagnosis for many affected SEALs.

One high-profile case is that of Ryan Larkin, a decorated SEAL who took his own life in 2017. Despite numerous combat tours and an array of medals, Larkin struggled with undiagnosed brain injuries. His family reported changes in his behavior and cognitive abilities, which included severe headaches, confusion, and an inability to sleep. A posthumous examination of his brain revealed extensive damage consistent with blast exposure​.