The Pentagon delayed screening troops returning from Iraq for mild brain injuries for more than two years because officials feared veterans would blame vague ailments on the little-understood wound caused by exposure to bomb blasts, the military’s director of medical assessments has told USA Today.

Air Force Col. Kenneth Cox said in an interview with the paper that the Pentagon wanted to avoid another controversy such as the Gulf War syndrome. About 10,000 veterans blamed medical conditions on their service.

The Pentagon did not acknowledge the syndrome until Congress created a committee to study it in 1998, USA Today wrote.

For troops who believe they may have a condition not designated as war-related, Cox is reported as saying, often “they’re reacting to rumors, things that they’ve read about or heard about on the Internet or (from) their friends.”

That uncertainty, Cox said, means “some individuals will seek a diagnosis from provider to provider to provider.” It also makes treating veterans “much more difficult and much more costly,” he told the paper.

“That’s baloney,” Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., founder of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force, is reported as saying. “There was no need to delay this.”

In a January 2006 report, scientists at the federal Defense and Veteran Brain Injury Center urged that troops be screened for TBI “immediately.” The Pentagon will soon require that troops be checked as they come home, Cox told USA Today.

One concern, Cox told the paper, was that mild TBI symptoms often resemble simple problems such as a lack of sleep or stress.

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