Despite being diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, 33 service members who survived an Iranian missile strike against Al Asad Air Base in Iraq in January 2020 have been told they don’t rate a Purple Heart. However, 23 soldiers who were medically evacuated immediately after the attack were approved for the same award. CBS News and USA Today both reported the denied Purple Hearts this week.
On Jan. 8, 2020, Iran launched 16 ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases, al-Asad and Erbil, a Pentagon press release said. The event was the largest ballistic missile attack against US forces on record. Most of the warheads fell on or near the base, with 10 exploding. US troops had ample warning and hid in bomb shelters. None were killed.
However, the force of the huge blasts — much larger than explosions typically faced by US troops during 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan — caused brain injuries to many, including those in shelters.
Following the attacks, 56 soldiers were submitted for a Purple Heart, CBS News reported, but only 23 were approved.
Daine Kvasager, a platoon sergeant at the time, told CBS that one of the rockets landed about 150 feet away. He was later diagnosed with a TBI. Now, the 31-year-old suffers from hearing and vision issues along with headaches and memory loss. Kvasager was denied the Purple Heart, despite meeting the criteria.
However, the Army is now reconsidering the awards, according to USA Today.
The Pentagon initially downplayed the damage from the strike, with President Donald Trump saying, “I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things, but […] I can report that it’s not very serious.”
However, military experts like Gen. Barry McCaffrey noted at the time that the strikes were massive.
JCS Chrm Gen Mark Milley called it correctly. Those strikes were designed to kill. 66% success rate. US had hour warning. Each inbound missile 5 minute warning. Some troops exposed on perimeter. A flipping miracle we didn’t sustain losses.
— Barry R McCaffrey (@mccaffreyr3) January 14, 2020
McCaffrey said a Scud missile launched by Iraq in the first Gulf War, with a smaller warhead than the Iranian strikes, killed 28 when it hit an unprotected air base.
According to Purple Heart eligibility requirements on the Army Human Resources Command website, soldiers can be awarded a Purple Heart for “concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy generated explosions” or for “Mild traumatic brain injury or concussive severe enough to cause either loss of consciousness or restriction from full duty due to persistent signs, symptoms, or clinical finding, or impaired brain functions for a period greater than 48 hours from the time of the concussive incident.”
Receiving a Purple Heart, America’s oldest military award, entitles a military member to specific health benefits under the VA, plus other benefits that vary from state to state.