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:


5 Responses

  1. Just because it can…

    Promises of free care, its a token
    The Soldier reups, his body soon will become broken

    Broken down old at such a young age
    The soldier lives his life,while building a rage

    The rage comes full circle, as the V.A. begins its plan
    To kill off its soldiers just because it can

    More pills to give forget the cure
    Just give more pills, they will die for sure

    Forget that he is a Desert Storm Vet
    Memories of that time cant be swept

    Just give another pill, not one but three
    Until he can’t walk, but must hold onto a tree

    Three becomes six. give another to the old man
    More and more just because you can

    Death comes to the young old man
    The V.A. never falters just because it can

    Forsake not my Desert Storm Vet run while you can
    For I will take the stand

    No MORE!! something will be done
    NO MORE!! dying of Americas young

    The V.A. must answer ….but…then again
    Most likely it will lie in squander just because it can

    Written by Kimberly Green
    dedicated to her Desert Storm Vet SFC Ricky W. Green

    Jan 5 201

    • my husband only 43 dead…..sent home the day after major back surgery sent home to die…..they va and its doctors put him on at least 14 medications. they killed him. it has devastated our entire existance…

  2. […] Young Veterans Coming Home to Texas After War … to Die ( […]

  3. “This wasn’t open-mike night,” she said, referring to the Fourth of July event. “This was the symphony’s program. We thank them for allowing us to come and project images. Everyone that we’ve worked with at the symphony supports veterans and I definitely believe that their hearts were in the right place, though I was disappointed.

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