There are dozens of American servicemen and women who earned, but didn't receive, Purple Hearts after a ballistic missile attack early last year. As CBS News reported yesterday, it looks like the Army is putting things right.
The Army will award the Purple Heart to dozens of additional soldiers injured when Iran struck their airbase in Iraq with ballistic missiles in January 2020. The shift comes after a CBS News investigation last month found these same soldiers had not been recognized with the award and denied the medical benefits that come with it, despite appearing to qualify. In a statement to CBS News, a spokesman said the Army's Human Resources command, which oversees awards, approved 39 Purple Heart submissions for soldiers wounded in the attack. The command notified these soldiers on Wednesday.
For those who may need a refresher, let's review how we arrived at this point.
It was early last year when the United States launched a drone attack that killed a powerful Iranian general, Quasem Soleimani. Days later, Iran retaliated, launching a massive ballistic missile attack on U.S. troops stationed at the Al Asad Air Base in Iraq.
Fortunately, there was enough good intelligence about the impending strike that Americans were able to get to bunkers before the missiles hit, and no U.S. troops were killed in the attack. In fact, Donald Trump, starting his final year as president, also assured the public at the time that "no Americans" had been "harmed" in the attack.
That wasn't true. As regular readers know, a week later, the administration clarified that 11 U.S. servicemembers had been transported to two hospitals for treatment for brain injuries. Soon after, that number was revised, climbing from 11 to 34. The tally was then revised again, from 34 to 50. By late January, the total number climbed once more, from 50 to 64. A month later, it was up to 109.
An NBC News report explained that a lot of TBI symptoms develop late and manifest themselves over time. Or put another way, the number of injured servicemen and women kept rising, not because there was an attempt to deceive, but because officials were gradually hearing from troops whose symptoms were not immediately apparent.
There was, however, a related problem: Trump refused to back off from his false claim. In fact, when pressed for some kind of explanation for why he'd said "no Americans were harmed" when that wasn't true, the then-president downplayed the troops' brain injuries. The Republican went so far as to tell reporters that he'd heard that some of the servicemen and women had experienced "headaches," but he didn't "consider them very serious injuries."
Remember, we're talking about troops whose brain injuries were considered serious enough that the military airlifted them to hospitals.
It's possible Trump didn't want to admit he was wrong. It's also possible he couldn't bring himself to admit that his Iran policy had led to American troops' injuries. Maybe the guy just didn't know what he was saying.
Whatever the explanation, the Veterans of Foreign Wars denounced Trump's dismissive attitude toward the troops' brain injuries and called for a presidential apology. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America soon followed with a similar message of its own. The then-president ignored them.
The story took an awful turn several weeks ago, with reports that troops were "discouraged" from filing the paperwork for the Purple Hearts to which they were entitled.
CBS News ran a report last month that quoted servicemembers on the record, describing what they heard at the time. Retired Captain Geoffrey Hansen, for example, said in reference to the Purple Heart paperwork, "The messaging I was getting was just the political situation wasn't going to support more approvals."
The report added, "The soldiers CBS spoke with said after the attack, there was pressure to downplay the growing injuries to avoid a further escalation with Iran and avoid undercutting former President Trump."
In other words, Trump downplayed the seriousness of American injuries, which led to pressure within the military not to contradict the president who was wrong.
Remember, the Purple Heart is a sacred commendation, but as Rachel noted on last night's show, it also comes with practical benefits, including priority medical care at the V.A.
These new medals are overdue, and it's heartening to know they'll reach the servicemembers who deserve them.