Trump Dismisses Troops’ Possible Brain Injuries as ‘Headaches’

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Wednesday dismissed concussion symptoms reported by several American troops after Iranian airstrikes on Al Asad Air Base in Iraq as “not very serious,” even as the Pentagon acknowledged that a number of service members were being examined for possible traumatic brain injury caused by the attack.

“I heard they had headaches,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference in Davos, Switzerland. “No, I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to other injuries that I’ve seen.”

The comments of the president, who avoided the Vietnam War draft with a medical diagnosis of bone spurs, drew swift criticism from veterans’ groups.

“Don’t just be outraged by #PresidentMayhem’s latest asinine comments,” Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote in a Twitter post. “Take action to help vets facing TBIs,” a reference to traumatic brain injury.

The deputy commander of the American-led military operation in Iraq said the Defense Department was putting the service members through medical examinations to see if the headaches and other complaints amounted to traumatic stress injuries. Some of the affected troops were mere feet away from where the Iranian missiles struck, although they were in protective bunkers, Defense Department officials said.

“I haven’t seen the president’s comments, so I won’t comment on them,” Maj. Gen. Alexus G. Grynkewich of the Air Force told reporters during a news conference at the Pentagon. “I probably wouldn’t even if I had.”

He added: “I can just tell you from the perspective of a commander on the ground that we’re going to take symptoms from any kind of injury as seriously as we can.”

At a separate event earlier in the day, General Grynkewich denied that the White House had influenced how and when the military acknowledged that several American troops at the Asad base in Iraq had concussion symptoms as a result of the Iranian missile strikes and were being flown to a United States military hospital in Germany for treatment.

“We were not influenced by anyone,” he said.

The Trump administration had initially said that there were no injuries from the Iranian attack. If there was any delay in reporting the injuries, General Grynkewich said, it was because “it takes a bit of time for information to work its way up the chain of command” and eventually to the Pentagon.

He noted that symptoms from some brain injuries are not immediately apparent.

“T.B.I. is very difficult to assess, especially in the wake of an attack,” the general told reporters after speaking at the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies in Arlington, Va. “You’re looking for people with cuts and bruises and those sorts of things. You’re looking to make sure we didn’t have any fatalities.”

General Grynkewich said only then did commanders take the next step of assessing which military personnel were close to certain blasts, including those who had been in guard towers when the Iranian missiles hit.

The number of troops affected was in the “teens,” the general said. He did not know the severity of the injuries but said the affected troops were taken to the military hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, out of “an abundance of caution.”

“We’ll do whatever we need to do to take care of these soldiers and airmen,” he said.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper on Wednesday deflected questions from reporters in Pensacola, Fla., after they pointed to Mr. Trump’s comments that seemed to dismiss the severity of potential head injuries caused by the Iranian attack.

“This is mostly outpatient stuff,” Mr. Esper said. “I’m not a doctor, I’m not the one evaluating them. Those are calls that will be made by the medical professionals on hand making those examinations.”

Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from Pensacola, Fla.

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