The death rate for California veterans under 35 surpasses that of both active-duty service members and other civilians of the same ages, according to a Times analysis of state mortality records.
Scattered across the state, the veterans' deaths — 1,253 men and 110 women between 2006 and 2011 — are barely noticed in the mayhem of modern life.
A 27-year-old in San Diego crashes his motorcycle at 100 mph while drunk. A 32-year-old hooked on heroin overdoses in a restaurant bathroom in Tarzana. A 28-year-old in Humboldt County shoots himself in the head in front of his best friend.
When viewed together, however, patterns emerge.
Veterans were more than twice as likely as other civilians to commit suicide. They were twice as likely to be a victim of a fatal motor vehicle crash and a quarter more likely to suffer other deadly accidents.
The phenomenon has been largely unstudied by the government, which has concentrated its research on active-duty service members.
Researchers say the government now needs to systematically track the lives and deaths of veterans to understand the long-term effect of the wars in the Middle East.