The veterans organization Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) released a statement demanding President Donald Trump apologize to U.S. troops for downplaying the severity of the brain injuries they suffered at the hands of the Iranians.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday President Trump downplayed brain injuries suffered by servicemen, saying he heard “that they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I would say, and I can report, it is not very serious.”
On Friday, the Pentagon announced on Friday that 34 U.S. service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries in Iran’s Jan. 8 attack on U.S. airbases in the region. Trump has initially said no U.S. serviceman was killed or injured, and appears to be downplaying what an injury is.
Notably, 17 of the 34 who suffered a brain trauma returned to service in Iraq, nine are still in Germany being treated, and the remaining eight have been flown the United States for additional treatment.
The comments sparked a backlash from William “Doc” Schmitz, the national commander of the VFW, which describes itself as America’s largest and oldest combat veterans service organization. Schmitz wrote in a statement released on Friday that the organization “cannot stand idle on this matter.”
“In light of today’s announcement from the defense department that 34 U.S. service members suffered traumatic brain injuries as a result of Iran’s retaliatory strike and President Trump’s remarks which minimized these troops’ injuries,” Schmitz wrote.
He added: “The VFW expects an apology from the president to our service men and women for his misguided remarks. And, we ask that he and the White House join with us in our efforts to educate Americans of the dangers TBI has on these heroes as they protect our great nation in these trying times. Our warriors require our full support more than ever in this challenging environment.”
Since 2000, about 408,000 service members have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, according to Defense Department data. TBI is known to cause depression, memory loss, severe headaches, dizziness and fatigue, according to Schmitz. These are all injuries that come with short- and long-term effects.
While brain injuries like concussions are difficult to detect and mild forms are not always apparent, TBIs are still the most common injury suffered by military servicemen.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Friday that medical professionals are monitoring the injured troops.
Esper also directed the Pentagon to review the process for tracking and reporting injuries, according to Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.
“The goal is to be as transparent, accurate and to provide the American people and our service members with the best information,” Hoffman said.
Iran’s Jan. 8 attack was in retaliation for the U.S. airstrike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, who the Pentagon said was planning an attack on America.
“General Soleimani and his Quds Force were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American and coalition service members and the wounding of thousands more,” the Pentagon statement added.