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 necessarily 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. It's also possible 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.
Four months later, 29 of the U.S. soldiers who were injured in the attack were awarded Purple Hearts, despite their commander in chief at the time downplaying their injuries. But dozens of other Americans were also hurt. What about their Purple Hearts?
USA Today reported yesterday:
A soldier who suffered a brain injury and an official who surveyed the damage described the missile attack as intense and a miracle that it didn't kill any troops. But it has left the soldier and others with injuries that linger nearly two years later. Both the soldier and official say commanders discouraged wounded troops from filing paperwork for the Purple Heart.
Wait, wounded American troops were "discouraged" from filing paperwork for the Purple Heart? MSNBC and NBC News haven't confirmed USA Today's reporting, but if the article is correct, and commanders recommended that servicemen and women — who'd otherwise be eligible for the military honor — not seek the Purple Heart while the then-president downplayed their injuries, that would be an important revelation.
It's important to emphasize that the same USA Today article that these soldiers are no longer being discouraged and the Army "now anticipates receiving 39 more submissions for Purple Heart medals and will process them under existing regulations."
That's a big step in the right direction — those Americans earned their medals — but it doesn't answer the questions about what happened in 2020.
In fact, USA Today isn't alone on this story. CBS News ran a related report today, quoting 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, which has also not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, 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.
Trump's presidency is over. The number of Trump scandals continues to grow.