Mortality ascertainment of women veterans: a comparison of sources of vital status information, 1979-2002

Med Care. 2009 Jan;47(1):125-8. doi: 10.1097/MLR.0b013e3181809125.


Background: To support health research on the unique cohort of women with a history of military service, this study assessed the completeness of mortality ascertainment for Texas women veterans in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and non-VA databases.

Methods: We examined female veteran-specific mortality ascertainment comparing the VA Beneficiary Identification and Records Locator Subsystem Death File (BIRLS DF), VA Patient Treatment Files (PTF), and Social Security Administration-Death Master File (SSA-DMF) with Texas death certificate data. Databases were deterministically cross-linked, using female sex and social security numbers. Deterministic and probabilistic linkage methods were also compared.

Results: Of 6,297 decedents identified by death certificates, SSA-DMF, BIRLS DF, and PTF databases identified 97.5% collectively and 94%, 77%, and 5% individually. Compared with Texas death certificates, sensitivity of VA and SSA databases improved with increasing age.

Conclusions: This study highlights that although the VA and SSA administrative databases have less complete ascertainment for younger decedents, combined these electronic databases provide nearly complete ascertainment for women veterans. Challenges related to large female-specific cross-linkage studies are explored, and a need to examine methods for female-specific health research studies in the general population is identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cohort Studies
  • Databases, Factual / standards*
  • Death Certificates*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medical Record Linkage
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality* / ethnology
  • Public Health Informatics / standards*
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Social Security / standards*
  • Systems Integration
  • Texas / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vital Statistics
  • Women*
  • Young Adult