Young Veterans Coming Home to Texas After War … to Die

Kimberly Mitchell weeps at the grave of her husband, Navy veteran Chad Mitchell, at the Houston National Cemetery. Chad, an Iraq War veteran who served seven deployments, was one of hundreds of former service members from Texas who have died not in a war zone but after returning home. He died of an accidental overdose in 2010. (Jay Janner / American-Statesman)

REPORT: Texas Vets Dying Young at Alarming Rate

Scores of recently discharged Texas veterans are returning home from overseas combat duty only to die of overdoses, suicide and vehicle crashes just as their young adult lives are getting started

Austin American-Statesman, Sept. 29, 2012

They survived the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. But they did not survive the homecoming.

A six-month American-Statesman investigation, which paints the most complete picture yet of what happened to Texas’ Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who died after leaving the military, reveals 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 that federal authorities are failing to adequately track and have been slow to respond to.

Clayton Hunt, 28, a former Marine Corps infantryman and trained sniper from the Houston suburb of Spring Branch, Texas, died of suicide March 32, 2011. Hunt served combat assignments in the most violent regions of the wars in places like Fallujah, Iraq, and Sangin, Afghanistan. He got wounded in Iraq and received the Purple Heart Medal. After his discharge from the Marine Corps in 2009, Hunt became a humanitarian and veterans’ advocate. He stared a PSA to help build awareness for fellow veterans who might struggle with suicidal feelings. He struggled with PTSD and with the VA to grant him disability compensation for his injuries. He was forced to wait for his benefits more than 10 months after the VA claimed his paperwork got lost.

The Statesman obtained autopsy results, toxicology reports, inquests and accident reports from more than 50 agencies throughout the state to analyze 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.

The Statesman investigation, which relied on 345 fragmentary death records provided by the VA — as well as obituaries and interviews with veterans’ families — reveals a phenomenon that has mostly been hidden from public view.


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  percent 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, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

Read related story on skyrocketing California veterans deaths after discharge

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.

The investigation highlights the problem of prescription drug overdose among veterans, which has received scant attention compared to suicides: Nearly as many Texas veterans died after taking prescription medicine as committed suicide.

VA prescriptions for powerful narcotics have skyrocketed over the past decade  even as evidence mounted that such painkillers and PTSD make a dangerous combination. In effect, experts say, the military and VA exposed an especially vulnerable population to a flood of powerful drugs.

Read the rest of this in-depth report:

Army Reports 25 Suicides in Aug; Top Enlisted Leader Hosts PR Event, Says Prevention “Starting to See Some Traction”

The Army said it lost another 25 soldiers to suicide in August. The Sept. 27, 2012 report means 212 soldiers killed themselves so far this year according to published Army records and will likely eclipse 2009’s record of 305 Army suicides. Meanwhile, the Army’s top enlisted leader hosted hand-selected reporters and bloggers at a phone-in roundtable discussion to explain details on the Army’s worldwide mandatory “Suicide Stand Down” Sept. 27, 2012. Sgt Maj Raymond Chandler, the “Sergeant Major of the Army,” also reported positive progress in prevention programs, successes in stigma reduction, and a favorable forecast in his service’s future fight against suicide. Chandler mostly credited successes to the Army’s recently adopted Resiliency philosophy, the Army’s primary weapon being used against the post-9/11 suicide epidemic. Chandler told attendees at the Sept. 26, 2012, PR event that he is “starting to see some traction” in the Army’s suicide prevention efforts. However, published DoD statistics indicate the Army is on pace to lose more soldiers to suicide in 2012 than in any previous year in Army history. (DoD)

Army Releases August Suicide Data

Political News, Sept. 28, 2012

The Army released suicide data for the month of August.

During August, among active-duty soldiers, there were 16 potential suicides: three have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation.

For July, the Army reported 26 potential suicides among active-duty soldiers: 13 have been confirmed as suicides and 13 remain under investigation.

For 2012, there have been 131 potential active-duty suicides: 80 have been confirmed as suicides and 51 remain under investigation.

Active-duty suicide number for 2011: 165 confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation.

During August, among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty, there were nine potential suicides (five Army National Guard and four Army Reserve): none have been confirmed as suicide and nine remain under investigation.

For July, among that same group, the Army reported 12 potential suicides (nine Army National Guard and three Army Reserve); four have been confirmed as suicides and eight remain under investigation.

For 2012, there have been 80 potential not on active-duty suicides (49 Army National Guard and 31 Army Reserve): 59 have been confirmed as suicides and 21 remain under investigation.

Not on active-duty suicide numbers for 2011: 118 (82 Army National Guard and 36 Army Reserve) confirmed as suicides and no cases under investigation.

“The loss of any life is a tragedy, and this loss is preventable,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler.

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Fixing the Military’s Broken Mental Heath Care System, Culture, is First Step to Ending Suicide Epidemic

The broken mental health care system within DoD and the VA has contributed to many thousands of deaths by suicide among those who have served during America’s “Global War on Terrorism.” Since war began after 9-11, at least 2.5 million men and women have worn the uniform. Most who subsequently decided to end their own life by suicide did so after witnessing or directly participating in the horrors of war. The Fayetteville Observer’s series of in-depth reports titled “The Last Battle” has focused a new bright light on suicides, psychiatric injuries, maltreatment of wounded soldiers at Fort Bragg and the larger issues contributing to the 18 daily suicides by those serving on active duty and veterans. The below post reports a summary of suggested solutions to ending the needless loss of life from military suicide. (The Oregonian)

THE LAST BATTLE: Efforts to Provide Mental Health Care for War Veterans Falling Short

by Greg Barnes and John Ramsey
The Fayetteville Observer, Sept. 26, 2012

The last battle of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is being fought at home.

And in 2012, the military and the VA have done more than ever to respond to the anguish of men and women who are haunted by war.

This year, the military and the Department of Veterans Affairs rolled out promising new programs and research to identify and treat post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other lingering effects of combat that afflict as many as one in five service members.

Myriad studies are under way. Budgets for mental health treatment programs are doubling. Thousands of new counselors have been hired.
But there is little evidence that the tide has turned in the battle. Too many service members suffering from mental health problems still are not being identified until they get into trouble.

Suicides are climbing. Commanders struggle with the twin demands of monitoring the mental health of their soldiers while maintaining focus on their core mission of training for war.

Based on extensive interviews with troubled soldiers, military and VA leaders, and mental health advocates – along with evidence from statistical data and civilian and military studies – it is clear that there are things that must be done better if the country is going to win this fight against the “hidden wounds” of war.


The military must do a better job of identifying men and women who are suffering from mental health problems early, before PTSD blossoms into domestic violence, substance abuse or suicide.

The military must make more mental health counselors available – in the field and at home.

The military and VA have to eliminate their communication problems and aggressively address the bureaucratic hurdles that slow the processing of veterans claims.

The country cannot depend on the military and VA to carry the whole burden of addressing the mental health problems of those who went to war. States, local communities, even volunteers must step up.

If the country doesn’t do a better job of helping service members and veterans damaged by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the price will likely be exacted over decades.

— Greg Barnes and John Ramsey, Fayetteville Observer, Sept. 26, 2012

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