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Mon Dec 24, 2012, 10:18 AM

Department of Veterans Affairs to track how veterans die


Department of Veterans Affairs to track how veterans die
Updated: 10:39 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 | Posted: 10:39 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012
By Jeremy Schwartz
American-Statesman Staff

More than two months after the American-Statesman detailed how hundreds of Texas veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have died since coming home — and the government’s failure to adequately track them — the Department of Veterans Affairs said it will launch a mortality study that will seek similar information for veterans nationwide.

While the VA has periodically studied suicide among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, it has done far less to understand other causes of death, including drug overdose. A six-month Statesman investigation found that nearly as many Texas veterans had died after taking prescription medicine as have committed suicide.

Using autopsy results, toxicology reports, inquests and accident reports from more than 50 agencies throughout the state, the Statesman determined the causes of death for 266 Texas veterans who served in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and were receiving Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits when they died. It was the first time a comprehensive view of how recent Texas veterans are dying has been produced.

The Statesman investigation found that the VA doesn’t track individual causes of death for the veterans it serves, and until now, hasn’t publicly released a comprehensive breakdown of causes of death. Critics said the shortcoming prevents the VA from understanding the full scope of the problems facing those who fought over the past decade.

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