AUSTIN, Texas -- A Texas congressman is calling for federal hearings after a newspaper report highlighted the number of Texas veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who have died from prescription drug overdoses.
U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, a Bryan Republican on the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, tells the Austin American-Statesman that he'll ask for hearings on the Department of Veterans Affairs' response to the overdoses. He also wants information on the latest research on post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
"We will be pushing them for a comprehensive study, absolutely," Flores said.
The Statesman obtained autopsy results, toxicology reports, inquests and accident reports from more than 50 agencies throughout the state. The newspaper used the data to analyze the causes of death for 266 Texas veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and were receiving VA disability benefits when they died.
The analysis found that the number of suicides among Texas veterans is nearly matched by the number of those who died from prescription drug overdoses. The newspaper said that highlights the problem of prescription drug overdose among veterans, an issue that has received far less attention than suicides.
Because it doesn't track individual causes of death, the VA couldn't confirm the findings or determine whether they represent national trends. The VA is planning to conduct more mortality studies at the end of the year, but it's unclear whether the agency will provide a full breakdown of veteran deaths.
But the VA faces several data limitations that make compiling such information difficult. It relies on the National Death Index for causes of death, but that file has a two-year time lag. And death certificates, including those in Texas, only reveal whether the deceased has ever served in the armed forces - which means active-duty service members are mixed in with veterans.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Violent Death Reporting System can identify veterans who die from suicide or other violent causes, only 18 states make reports to the system.