The U.S. troops who suffered symptoms of a concussion from a rocket attack by Iran were not seriously injured, President Trump said Wednesday.
“I heard that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it is not very serious,” the president said during a press conference at an economic forum in Davos, Switzerland.
After Iran fired rockets at a U.S. military base in Iraq on Jan. 8, U.S. officials initially said there were no casualties. Iran was retaliating for the U.S. killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike.
The president had cited the lack of U.S. casualties as a prime reason for his decision not to attack Iran directly in response.
But late last week, U.S. Central Command said at least 11 U.S. soldiers had been airlifted from Iraq to medical centers in Germany and Kuwait for further evaluation and treatment of possible traumatic brain injuries from the rocket attack. On Tuesday, military officials acknowledged that even more troops were being evaluated for such injuries.
A reporter for CBS News asked Mr. Trump, “You don’t consider potential traumatic brain injuries ‘serious’?”
“They told me about it numerous days later, you’d have to ask the Department of Defense,” he replied. “No, I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I’ve seen. I’ve seen what Iran has done with their roadside bombs to our troops. I’ve seen people with no legs and with no arms. I’ve seen people that were horribly, horribly injured in that area, that war. In fact, many cases those bombs [were] put there by Soleimani, who’s no longer with us.”
“I consider them to be really bad injuries. No, I do not consider that [concussions] to be bad injuries, no,” Mr. Trump said.
Concussion, or mild traumatic brain injury, has been the most common serious injury to U.S. military personnel since 2000, with more than 408,000 cases diagnosed, according to the Military Times.
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, criticized Mr. Trump’s comments.
“Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments. Take action to help vets facing TBIs,” he tweeted.
Post-9/11 veterans with a history of repeated traumatic brain injuries are at much greater risk for considering suicide, according to a November 2018 study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The researchers found that Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries were about twice as likely to report recent suicidal thoughts, compared with veterans who had suffered one such injury or none at all.
The researchers interviewed more than 800 combat veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. About half of the veterans reported at least one traumatic brain injury. Of those, nearly 20% with a history of multiple brain injuries told of recent suicidal thoughts, compared with 11% who had one brain injury and 9% with no history of a traumatic brain injury.
In March, Mr. Trump signed an executive creating a Cabinet-level task force to address the crisis of suicide among veterans. About 20 veterans per day take their own lives.