Describe etiologies and trends in non-battle deaths (NBD) among deployed U.S. service members to identify areas for prevention.
Injuries in combat are categorized as battle (result of hostile action) or non-battle related. Previous work found that one-third of injured US military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan had non-battle injuries (NBI) and emphasized prevention. NBD have not yet been characterized.
U.S. military casualty data for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001–2014 were obtained from the Defense Casualty Analysis System (DCAS) and the Department of Defense Trauma Registry (DoDTR). Two databases were used because DoDTR does not capture pre-hospital deaths, while DCAS does not contain clinical details. NBI and NBD were identified, etiologies classified, and NBD trends were assessed using a weighted moving average and time-series analysis with autoregressive integrated moving average. Future NBD rates were forecast.
DCAS recorded 59,799 casualties; 21.0% (n=1,431) of all deaths (n=6,745) were NBD. DoDTR recorded 29,958 casualties; 11.5% (n=206) of all deaths (n=1788) were NBD. After early fluctuations, NBD rates for both Iraq and Afghanistan stabilized at approximately 21%. Leading causes of NBD were gunshot wounds and vehicle accidents, accounting for 66%. Approximately 25% was self-inflicted. A 24% NBD rate was forecasted from 2015 through 2025.
Approximately 1 in 5 deaths were NBD. The majority were potentially preventable, including a significant proportion of self-inflicted injuries. A single comprehensive data repository would facilitate future mortality monitoring and performance improvement. These data may assist military leaders with implementing targeted safety strategies.