Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaks to reporters at the Pentagon on Jan. 30, 2020.
By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 30, 2020
WASHINGTON — The traumatic brain injuries that U.S. troops suffered as a result of the Iranian missile strikes on two military bases in Iraq have all been diagnosed as mild cases, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday.
“The diagnosis we have so far to date is mild traumatic brain injury,” Milley told reporters at the Pentagon, noting the conditions of the injuries could change over time. “Your brain is a very fragile part of your body, the unseen wounds of war can be serious and not serious. It depends on the individual and their proximity to the blast.”
On Tuesday, the Pentagon said 50 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury caused by the Iranian missile attack on Jan. 8. The number of troops injured has fluctuated since the attack, which came in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top military general. The number of injured troops increased from the 34 reported last week and the 11 reported on Jan. 17. The total could still rise, according to Milley, because TBIs sometimes take time to manifest.
The injuries undercut President Donald Trump’s initial statement hours after Iran’s missile barrage that no Americans were harmed in the attack. But Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Thursday defended Trump’s original assertion as not being wrong.
“The reporting [of no injuries] was accurate, at that time,” Esper said at the Pentagon news briefing. “I think we did our best to report the casualties.”
Milley said initial assessments of casualties focus on easily identifiable flesh wounds and loss of life, meaning a brain trauma injury could slip through the cracks at first.
“The very first thing to focus on is life and limb,” the general said.
Of the 50 troops diagnosed with TBI, 31 troops were treated in Iraq and returned to duty, 18 troops have been taken to Germany for further treatment and evaluation. One service member was treated in Kuwait and returned to duty.
Last week, Trump downplayed the injuries sustained by U.S. troops.
“I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things. I can report it is not very serious…I do not consider them bad injuries,” he said, contending at a news conference that potential traumatic brain injuries are less severe than amputations.
On Friday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the oldest major U.S. veterans group, demanded Trump apologize for shrugging off wounds troops suffered in combat.
“The VFW expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks,” William “Doc” Schmitz, the VFW’s national commander, said Friday in a statement. “TBI is a serious injury and one that cannot be taken lightly. TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue — all injuries that come with both short- and long-term effects.”
Head injuries are the most common injury among post-9/11 veterans with more than 408,000 traumatic brain injuries reported worldwide between 2000 and early 2019, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They can be caused by roadside bombs, rocket-propelled grenades, training incidents and falls. TBI could cause a number of conditions from headaches, irritability and sleep disorders to memory problems, slower thinking and depression, according to the VA. Symptoms could lead to long-term mental and physical health problems that impair a veteran’s employment and family relationships, and their reintegration into civilian life.