A total of 29 United States Army soldiers who suffered severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a ballistic missile attack in Iraq in January will be awarded Purple Hearts. The military medal is awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving.
On Jan. 8, Iran launched a ballistic missile attack at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that in Baghdad killed Tehran general Qassem Soleimani five days earlier.
No injuries were reported immediately after the attack at al-Asad. But days later, service members began reporting symptoms suggestive of concussions. Ultimately, about 110 U.S. service members were diagnosed with varying degrees of traumatic brain injury or TBI. Most soldiers were able to eventually return to work, but some required hospitalization and others were sent back to the states.
At the time, President Trump downplayed the seriousness of the injuries, describing them as headaches — remarks that generated much criticism.
TBIs have become a growing concern for the military in particular as medical researchers have come to better understand brain injuries caused by bombings and explosions. Among members of the U.S. armed forces, traumatic brain injuries have come to be known as the signature injury of troops stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq due to the prevalence of IEDs and other explosives in those conflicts.
Even if the physical injury from a TBI is not visible or seems minor, the effects of a concussion can last a lifetime. According to the CDC, an average of 155 people die from injuries that include a TBI in the U.S. every day. Those that survive are often left with anxiety, depression, mood swings, epilepsy, sleep deprivation, memory loss, cognitive and motor impairment, and headaches, to name just a few of the symptoms. The injuries often lead to alcohol and/or opioid abuse and suicide.
According to Navy Capt. Bill Urban, the first six Purple Hearts were awarded to soldiers in Iraq and Kuwait. The remaining 23 are in the United States. A review board based on Army and Air Force regulations considered a total of 80 services members for the merit medal. A TBI diagnosis does not automatically qualify a soldier for the award, Urban told ABC News.
Beasley Allen lawyers are active in supporting efforts to research traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its long-term health effects. Mike Andrews is President of the Board of Directors of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation (AHIF), and Stephanie Monplaisir is past President of the AHIF Montgomery Chapter. If you would like more information on this topic, they would be happy to talk with you.