Written by Aaron Glantz May 28, 2011 (Bay Citizen) – For years, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has claimed it does not track the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have died since leaving the military.
But a new investigative report from The Bay Citizen reveals the VA is aware of is aware of 4,194 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have died after being discharged from the military. Records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that since the beginning of the wars, the VA has quietly been recording the deaths of former service members in a relatively unknown government database called the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death File, which contains records of all VA beneficiaries who have died since 1973.
The file contains a detailed portrait of a problem that the VA has been criticized for slowly acknowledging, the extent to which mental and physical wounds of war are following veterans home, culminating in suicides and other risky, and ultimately fatal, behaviors. Last October, The Bay Citizen published an investigation using public health records to show that 1,000 California veterans under 35 had died between 2005 to 2008, three times the number that were killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts during the same period. At the time, the VA said they did not keep a tally of the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who died after leaving the military.
Even now, the VA says its data is incomplete. Veterans who never applied for VA benefits or were not receiving benefits at the time of their death are not counted.