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By W. Gardner Selby May 7, 2013

Van de Putte says about 250 Texans killed in action since 9/11

Leticia Van de Putte says that thankfully, few Texans stand to benefit from her proposed tax break for surviving spouses of Texans who die in action.

The San Antonio Democrat, who chairs the Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, told colleagues on the Senate floor May 1, 2013: "According to Department of Defense data, there would only be about 250 killed in action, who were Texans, since 9/11."

Michael Brick, an Associated Press reporter based in Austin, brought her claim to our attention via Twitter, wondering if that tally was low.

It was, according to a table of figures emailed to us by Van de Putte spokesman Lee Nichols. The table indicates 588 Texans were killed in action from Oct. 1, 2011, to Jan. 24, 2013. It was prepared by the Defense Manpower Data Center, which is the Department of Defense’s "human resource information source."

Some 310 of the Texans were married when they died, the table indicates, while 253 were not married; 24 were divorced; and one had an unknown marital status.

By email, Nichols noted that Van de Putte generally focused in her remarks on Texas members of the armed services killed in action with surviving spouses in the state who might benefit from her proposed constitutional amendment, which cleared the Senate and awaits House consideration. Under the proposal, which also would require voter approval to take effect, spouses who have not remarried could be exempt from paying property taxes on their homesteads.

Shortly after declaring the 250 figure, Nichols stressed, Van de Putte clarified by saying: "So we’re talking probably about 250 folks who would even qualify for this, and that’s since 9/11."

Nichols said Van de Putte gave the incorrect figure due to staff error. By telephone, Bill Wilson, chief of staff for the Senate committee, told us that as Van de Putte spoke, he gave her the 250 figure by drawing from the wrong column on the table. His intent, he said, was to let her know that 310 of the Texans killed in action since 9/11 were married, which is of relevance to the fiscal impact of her proposal.

Finally, Defense Department spokeswoman Leslie Hull-Ryde guided us to up-to-date online counts of Americans killed in action, enabling us to confirm that as of May 2, 2013, 588 Texans had been killed in action since Oct. 1, 2011. Those Texans comprised 11 percent of the 5,258 Americans killed in action since 9/11, according to the government figures.

Precisely, the government counts indicate, 411 Texans were killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom (which ran through August 2010); 170 in Operation Enduring Freedom (occurring in Afghanistan and other countries); and seven in Operation New Dawn (in Iraq and nearby countries since Sept. 1, 2010)--with all but 11 of the dead being men. According to the information, the deaths occurred from Jan. 4, 2002, through Dec. 24, 2012. We calculated the average age of the victims as 26. (See our breakout, including individual names and other details, here.)

Brick, the AP reporter, responded to Nichols’ email on this topic by tweeting a May 2, 2013, update, followed by a confessional tweet: "Related: This reporter once spent weeks gathering string on a story," as in detail, "then spelled Sen. VDP's name wrong, so nobody's perfect."

Our ruling

Van de Putte said about 250 Texans have been killed in action since 9/11.

That’s off by more than half; 588 Texans perished in action from January 2002 through the most recent Texan's death on Dec. 24, 2012, according to the federal government.

The senator likely drew her number from the wrong column on a table. Regardless, what she said rates as False.

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

Email (excerpted), Lee Nichols, communications director, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, May 2, 2013

Table, "KIA from Texas By Fiscal Year and Marital Status As of January 24, 2013," Defense Casualty Analysis System, U.S. Department of Defense (Received by PolitiFact Texas from Lee Nichols, May 2, 2013)

Telephone interview, Bill Wilson, director, Texas Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, May 2, 2013

Charts, Americans killed in action in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Defense Casualty Analysis System; Definitions of military operations, U.S. Defense Department (accessed May 2, 2013)

Chart, Texans killed in action since 9/11 (based on information from Defense Department), as of May 2, 2013

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Van de Putte says about 250 Texans killed in action since 9/11

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