Fact Check-DoD says data error caused spike in numbers of medical diagnoses in their medical database for 2021

Posts on social media sharing a list of medical conditions that purportedly “skyrocketed” among U.S. military personnel in 2021 are missing context.

The calculations, based on figures from the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED), are incorrect. Last year’s apparent sharp increases were caused by underreporting for the years 2016-2020. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense (DoD) told Reuters that due to “data corruption,” the platform showed only a “fraction” of the actual medical diagnoses registered in that period.

“Data leaked from the Defense Health Agencies Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED) shows skyrocketing levels of disease among military personnel,” an image shared on Facebook reads ( here ). Then it adds:

“Percentage Increase Over the Average of the Last Five Years: Heart attacks 269%, Cancer 300%, Pericarditis 175%, Myocarditis 285%, Pulmonary Embolisms 467%, Cerebral Infarction 393%, Bell’s Palsy 319%, Guillain-Barre 250%, Immunodeficiencies 275%, Menstrual Irregularity 476%, Multiple Sclerosis 487%, Miscarriage 306%, HIV 590%, Chest Pain 1,529%, Labored Breathing 905%, Neurological Issues 1052%.”

Other iterations of Facebook posts listing the alleged percentage increases on several conditions among military personnel and attributing the information to the DMED platform can be found ( here ), ( here ).

An iteration of a clip discussing the data has garnered over 52,000 views since it was posted on Rumble on Jan. 28 ( here ).

As explained by the Military Health System ( here ) (see fact-sheet) DMED is a “web-based tool to remotely query de-identified active component personnel and medical event data contained within the Defense Medical Surveillance System (DMSS).”

The platform is available to “U.S. military personnel, medical providers, epidemiologists, medical researchers, safety officers, medical operations and clinical staff, and federal partners and civilian collaborators in military medical research and operations.”

The calculations, however, appear to be a comparison of average annual cases of different medical conditions found on DMED for 2016 to 2020 to the total number of cases recorded for Jan. 2021 to Nov. 2021.

According to the video, for myocardial infarction (heart attacks), for example (see around timestamp 1:01, here ), there was an average of 612 cases a year between 2016 and 2020 (3,061/5=612.2) and 1,650 cases between Jan. 2021 and Nov. 2021, resulting in an apparent 269% increase for 2021.

Reuters could not access the platform to independently confirm the figures presented in the social media posts.

Lisa Lawrence, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense (DoD) told Reuters via email that the increase for 2021 was a result of incorrect data for the years 2016 to 2020.

“Comparing the DMED database to the source data contained in DMSS, the Defense Health Agency’s Armed Forces Surveillance Division (AFHSD) discovered that the total number of medical diagnoses from 2016-2020 that were accessible in DMED represented only a small fraction of actual medical diagnoses for those years. In contrast, the 2021 total number of medical diagnoses were up to date in DMED,” she said.

The comparison between the data available in the platform from 2021 and 2016-2020 “resulted in the appearance of significant increased occurrence of all medical diagnoses in 2021 because of the underreported data for 2016-2020. AFHSD has taken DMED offline to identify and correct the root-cause of the data corruption,” Lawrence added.


Missing context. A spokesperson for the Department of Defense told Reuters that medical diagnoses from 2016-2020 were underreported in DMED due to a data error, which resulted in an apparent significant increase when comparing the figures with data from 2021.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here.