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NIOSH, DOD Study Finds Most Military Deaths Due to Unintentional Injuries, Other Preventable Causes

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 260-8519
November 15, 1996

Substantially more U.S. Armed Forces personnel died on and off duty from unintentional injuries, homicide, suicide, and illness than from hostile actions between 1980 and 1993, according to a study issued by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Department of Defense.

By generating new information about risks to military personnel from largely avoidable causes, the findings “provide an impetus for preventing future loss of life among the honorable men and women serving on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces,” said NIOSH Director Linda Rosenstock, M.D., M.P.H., and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Stephen C. Joseph, M.D., M.P.H.

More than 27,000 Armed Forces personnel died during the 14-year period, an average of five deaths per day, the study found. Of the total, 16,330 deaths or 60 percent resulted from unintentional injury, compared with 561 deaths or 2 percent from hostile actions. Of the other deaths, 4,901 resulted from illnesses, 3,406 from suicide, 1,464 from homicide, and 408 from other, unclassified, or unknown causes.

Rosenstock and Joseph urged a concerted civilian and military public health effort to “aggressively address those causes where intervention efforts and prevention strategies can be implemented to save lives.” Already, safe driving programs developed by military base commanders and civilian communities have reduced fatal injuries among personnel, they noted.

The study found that the number of deaths among Armed Forces personnel declined by 49 percent over the 14-year period, from 2,390 in 1980 to 1,210 in 1993. The annual fatality rate declined by 37 percent from a 1983 peak of 117.2 per 100,000 persons to 73.4 per 100,000 in 1993. Peak rates in 1983, 1985, and 1991 were due primarily to the terrorist bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, the crash of a DC-8 airplane on takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland, and the Persian Gulf War, respectively.

Fatality rates for unintentional injuries steadily decreased with age, while rates from illness dramatically increased with age across all services. Those trends are comparable to patterns observed in the general population.

Among the services, the Marine Corps experienced the highest fatality rates for all causes as well as for unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide. The Army had the highest illness-related fatality rate. The Air Force experienced the lowest rates for all causes, unintentional injury, and homicide, and the Navy had the lowest suicide rate. For all services, males had a higher suicide rate than females, but females had a substantially higher homicide rate than males.

Copies of the study, “National Mortality Profile of Active Duty Personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces, 1980-1993,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 96-103, are available from NIOSH at toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

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