Lawmakers ask that soldiers injured in missile attack receive Purple Hearts

More than two dozen members of Congress are asking the secretary of the Army to “expeditiously” award the Purple Heart to soldiers injured when Iran struck their airbase in Iraq with ballistic missiles in January 2020.

In a letter obtained exclusively by CBS News, a bipartisan group of 29 congressional representatives urged Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to “rectify this injustice as quickly as possible” and recognize soldiers suffering from traumatic brain injuries sustained in the attack.

The letter cites a CBS News investigation which found dozens of soldiers on a team called Taskforce Scarecrow who were injured in the attack were later denied the Purple Heart and the medical benefits that come with it, despite appearing to qualify for the award.

The attack was the largest ballistic missile strike against American forces in history and came days after the U.S. killed the powerful Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds military force and the man behind deadly attacks on American bases. Yet, only 23 of 59 Taskforce Scarecrow members originally submitted for the Purple Heart were recognized with the award.

“Our service members were wounded as a result of action by a hostile foreign force and deserve to be awarded with the Purple Heart which recognizes a casualty was sustained,” the representatives wrote. “We owe it to take care of these soldiers above all else.”

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The soldiers CBS News spoke with said after the attack, there was pressure to downplay their growing injuries to avoid a further escalation with Iran and avoid undercutting former President Trump.

A week after the attack, Mr. Trump was asked about the soldiers’ injuries at a press conference. He said he “heard they had headaches” and “I can report it is not very serious.”

When CBS News brought these cases to the Pentagon’s attention, a spokesman said the Army’s Human Resources Command would review the soldiers’ Purple Heart submissions. The spokesman said the review would be expedited.

“HRC will evaluate each award nomination, to include posthumous submissions, expeditiously and on their individual merit in accordance with Army regulations,” the spokesman said in a statement.

One of the submissions is for 22-year-old Jason Quitugua, who took his own life last month. Quitugua, who was promoted to sergeant posthumously, defended the base when the missiles struck and was diagnosed with a TBI.

“He struggled, you know, like we all are, like I am,” said Daine Kvasager, who served with Quitugua and was also denied the Purple Heart.

Ksavager used to help run armed drone operations as part of the unit, but the now 31-year-old struggles with vision and hearing problems and suffers from constant headaches and memory loss. He says he can no longer do his job.

“The person I was prior to a traumatic brain injury, he’s gone,” Kvasager said. “There’s parts that remain. The pieces are all still there, just — yeah, he’s not coming back.”

Kvasager’s superior officer Captain Geoffrey Hansen, 32, helped lead Taskforce Scarecrow and told CBS News the soldiers met the military’s eligibility requirement for the award.

“Throughout my whole military career, I was always told ‘we take care of soldiers above all else,'” said Hansen, who recently was honorably discharged from the military and is attending business school. “It shocks me that we have failed to do that in this situation.”

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