President Trump Downplays Severity of Troops' Head Injuries After Iranian Attack

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Media outlets visit one of the many impact sites created by the recent missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2020. (U.S. Army/Spc. Derek Mustard)
Media outlets visit one of the many impact sites created by the recent missile attacks at Al Asad Air Base, Iraq, Jan. 13, 2020. (U.S. Army/Spc. Derek Mustard)

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that U.S. service members treated for concussion symptoms after Iranian airstrikes earlier this month had "headaches," adding it was "not very serious."

On Jan. 8, Iran struck bases where U.S. and Iraqi troops train together in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike days before that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Despite initial comments by the Trump administration that "no Americans were harmed" during the attack, officials confirmed reports last week that 11 troops were medically evacuated for treatment in Germany and Kuwait and are "still being assessed."

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that a small number of additional troops have also been flown to Germany so that concussion symptoms can be evaluated.

"I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things … and I can report it is not very serious," Trump said at a press conference in Davos, Switzerland, according to an AP report.

Related: 11 US Troops Injured in Iranian Missile Attack on Iraq Base, Officials Confirm

The commander in chief also said traumatic brain injuries, or TBI, known as the signature wounds of post-9/11 wars, are less severe than losing a limb.

"No, I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen," Trump said. "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.

"No, I do not consider that to be bad injuries, no," he added.

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center estimates almost 408,300 service members have been diagnosed with TBI since 2000. Part of the Military Health System, the center labels TBI as a "significant health issue" that can cause temporary gaps in memory, sleep disturbance, irritability, anxiety and depression, among other problems.

Phillip Carter, a researcher with Rand Corp., expressed surprise via Twitter to the president's comments.

"Wait what? Headaches? Perhaps the president (or his staff) would like to review the literature on blast injury and #TBI," he wrote, linking to an entire page on the illness. "The [Department of Veterans Affairs] and [Department of Defense] literally spend *billions* to research, diagnose, and treat #TBI -- an injury which affects hundreds of thousands of veterans. These are not just 'headaches.'"

The Department of Veterans Affairs spent $234 million on TBI treatment in fiscal 2015, according to a 2018 study Carter linked to. The study estimated treatment costs would total $2.2 billion over the next decade.

-- Dorothy Mills-Gregg can be reached at dorothy.mills-gregg@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DMillsGregg.

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