Feb. 25 (UPI) — Officials with the Department of Defense on Monday defended their handling of the 110 soldiers diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries caused by an Iranian attack on an Iraqi base in January.
During an informational session on traumatic brain injuries, Joint Staff Surgeon Air Force Brig. Gen. Paul Friedrichs said a problem with diagnosing this type of injury is that the symptoms are non-specific.
“And I think that’s important in this discussion because a lot of people have said, ‘well, why didn’t we immediately identify everybody with a traumatic brain injury?’ Because the signs sometimes are fairly non-specific,” he said.
In early January, Iran launched more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases where U.S. forces were stationed, in retaliation for an earlier U.S. airstrike that killed Qassem Soleimani, a high-ranking Iranian military official.
Initially, the White House and the Pentagon said no one was injured in the attack, but 10 days later the Department of Defense said 11 U.S. service members at the al-Asad base were receiving treatment for brain injuries, a number that has since been repeatedly increased, most recently late last week.
Friedrichs said Monday that all injured U.S. service members were diagnosed with “mild traumatic brain injury,” with six of them still undergoing diagnosis to assess the extent of their injuries.
Around 25 of those injured have been flown back to the United States for outpatient care, he added.
The symptoms of this type of injury consist of headaches, dizziness, memory problems, nausea and vomiting, among others, which service members can easily delay seeking attention for, he said.
“And if you’re 18 or 19 or 20 years old, even though we’ve trained everybody who deploys down-range on what to look for, it’s quite common that we’ll have folks who will say, you know, ‘I just was blasted; of course I’m not going to feel quite right, I’m going to ride this out for a few days’ or ‘I’m going to wait and see if this gets better,'” he said. “And then they come in, several days or weeks after the fact.”
Those who were within 50 meters of the blast were immediately evaluated, he said, while some sought medical attention soon after the Jan. 8 attack and others did so weeks later.
“I think the point in all of that is there are different cohorts of folks that we identified with mild traumatic brain injury in this event,” he said. “There were those who were immediately evaluated because they met the criteria, and then there were those who came in, over a period of weeks after the event, and sought evaluation.”
The most recently diagnosed, he said, came in for a physical injury such as a sprained knee and during the course of evaluating them, the physicians uncovered their brain injuries.
Friedrichs said the lessons learned from this is that the United States has developed the ability to screen, diagnose and treat people with brain injuries and that they are going to use this data for years to come to compare it with those from other wars to try and learn as much from the dataset as possible.
“So I think there’s going to be a continuous learning process as a result of this that will go on for a long time as we continue to learn as much as we can from this,” he said.