by Jeff Seldin
PENTAGON – The Pentagon said Friday that 34 U.S. troops had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries or concussions as a result of Iran’s missile attack on bases in Iraq earlier this month.
Almost half have returned to duty in Iraq but the rest continue to be treated in Germany or the United States.
“These are mainly outpatient treatments,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters, cautioning that the number of troops suffering as a result of the missile strikes could change.
“This is a snapshot in time,” he said, citing the nature of brain injuries and the fact that symptoms do not always present themselves right away.
He also said it was a “distinct possibility” that more of the injured service members could be brought back the U.S. to continue their care.
U.S. officials initially said no U.S. troops had been hurt in the January 8 missile attack on the al-Asad air base in Iraq.
Last week, U.S. military officials said 11 troops had been evacuated from Iraq with concussion-like symptoms. Since then, officials had repeatedly declined to provide updates.
Trump: ‘Not very serious’
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump appeared to downplay the severity of the injuries. “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,” he said during his trip to Davos, Switzerland.
“I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries I have seen,” he added. “I’ve seen people with no legs and no arms.”
The Pentagon said Friday that of the 34 troops diagnosed with brain injuries or concussions, 17 were evacuated to medical facilities in Germany and one to Kuwait.
The service member sent to Kuwait returned to duty in Iraq. Of the troops sent to Germany, eight are still there, while nine have been brought back to their home bases in the U.S. to continue treatment.
Hoffman on Friday maintained that the military was taking the injuries seriously and said U.S. medical personnel were carefully tracking any troops who reported symptoms of a traumatic brain injury or concussion, including headaches, dizziness, sensitivity to light or nausea.
He also said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had ordered a review of how the Pentagon reports and tracks concussions and other injuries.
“The goal is to be transparent, accurate, and to provide the American people and our service members with the best information,” Hoffman said.
“We needed to have more clarity,” he said, pointing to the way the brain injuries suffered during the attack had been reported up the chain of command. “We need to get a little better handle on it.”
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Jeff Seldin is a national security correspondent for Voice of America.