Uncounted Casualties: Suicides, Drug Deaths for Veterans Who Survive Combat but Not "Homecoming"
October 2, 2012 • 9:01AM

Scores of recent Texas war veterans have died of overdoses, suicide and vehicle crashes, says an investigative report published by the Austin American-Statesman following a six-month investigation. While the U.S. Army and Marines have sounded the alarm about active duty suicides, this is just a small part of the picture. The American-Statesman report shows that the situation is far uglier for the veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

"They survived the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. But they did not survive the homecoming," the paper reports. Analyzing the cause of death for 266 Texas veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan from autopsy results, inquests, toxicology and accident reports from some 50 agencies, the reporters found that "an alarmingly high percentage died from prescription drug overdoses, toxic drug combinations, suicide and single-vehicle crashes—a largely unseen pattern of early deaths...."

Beginning with 345 fragmentary death records provided by the Veterans Administration, the Statesman investigators also used obituaries and interviews with veterans' families to put the picture together.

"The investigation found that:

"More than 1 in 3 died from a drug overdose, a fatal combination of drugs or suicide. Their median age at death was 28.

"Nearly 1 in 5 died in a motor vehicle crash.

"Of those with a primary diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the numbers are even more disturbing: 80% died of overdose, suicide or a single-vehicle crash. Only two of the 46 Texas veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan operations who had a PTSD diagnosis died of disease or illness....

"The 345 Texas veterans identified by the VA as having died since coming home is equal to nearly two-thirds of the state's casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that only includes veterans who have sought VA benefits, meaning the total number of deaths is likely much larger."

Veterans activists say that the VA could fully investigate the phenomenon of these deaths but is not doing so. One member of the Texas state house took note reports The Statesman: "'This is the data we've been looking for,' said state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who chairs the Senate's Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee. 'We know very well the numbers of active-duty (deaths), but what we don't know is what happens once they separate from the military."