Texas Department of Veterans Affairs to Track Deaths

The Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct a mortality study to track causes of death for veterans, creating a database that could be used to evaluate services provided to veterans.

The department’s decision came two months after an Austin American-Statesman investigation found that nearly as many Texas veterans died from prescription medicines as from suicide. The newspaper said Sunday it used autopsy and toxicology reports, inquests and accident reports from more than 50 state agencies to determine the causes of death for 266 Texas veterans who had been receiving disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs when they died.

After the Statesman’s first report, state and federal lawmakers called on the department to increase the data it collects and share it with the public.

The department said its Office of Public Health Post-Deployment Epidemiology Program would review “the universe of causes, including drug overdose and motor vehicle crashes.”

The program will receive a list of veterans who served in combat zones from the Department of Defense. The list will be matched to causes of death listed on death certificates and compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Veterans Affairs declined to say how the data collected would be used in the future.

“If they do it well, they should be able to answer the questions people are asking: how many veterans are dying and what are they dying from?” said B. Christopher Frueh, a former researcher for the department who is a post-traumatic stress disorder expert at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.