US awards 29 soldiers with Purple Hearts for suffering brain injuries that Trump described as 'headaches'

Soldiers receive military decorations after suffering injuries the president described as not being 'very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen'

Chris Riotta
New York
Tuesday 05 May 2020 17:29 BST
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Footage purports to show Iranian missiles being fired at US bases in Iraq

The US will award Purple Hearts to 29 soldiers who suffered injuries from an Iranian missile strike on an Iraqi air base earlier this year, despite Donald Trump previously downplaying the attack and resulting injuries.

US Central Command confirmed on Monday in a statement that six of the military decorations — reserved for soldiers wounded or killed due to enemy action and awarded by the president — had been sent to soldiers stationed in Iraq and Kuwait earlier this week.

The Purple Hearts were “approved for injuries sustained” during the strike that took place on 8 January, according to Centcom spokesperson Commander Zachary Harrell, who described the event as an “Iranian ballistic missile attack” in the statement. He said the remaining 23 awards would be distributed throughout the week.

Mr Trump downplayed the attack from the very beginning, initially claiming there were no injuries involving US soldiers.

“I am pleased to inform you, the American people should be extremely grateful and happy. No Americans were harmed in last night’s attack by the Iranian regime,” the president said during a televised address on the night of the attack. “We suffered no casualties. All of our soldiers are safe, and only minimal damage was sustained at our military bases.”

He later refuted the fact that 110 service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries, referring to them as “headaches” at a news conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

"No, I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it's not very serious," the president said about the injuries sustained by US soldiers.

A reporter pushed Mr Trump on the subject at the time, asking the president in response to his statement: “So you don’t consider potential traumatic brain injury serious?”

The president shot back at the reporter, insisting that he was only told about the injuries “numerous days later”, adding: “You’d have to ask the Department of Defence.”

“I don't consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I've seen,” he continued. “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.”

The Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR) received a total of 80 recommendations for Purple Hearts in the wake of the attack, according to Lieutenant General Pat white, who spearheads the US-led coalition against the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS. The commander approved the 29 Purple Hearts after conducting a review, Centcom said on Monday.

“It is important to note that a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) diagnosis does not automatically qualify a service member for Purple Heart eligibility or awarding,” Mr Harrell said. “The CJTF-OIR process was designed to be a fair and impartial proceeding that evaluated each case in accordance with applicable regulations.”

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