The Blog

The Wacko-Vet Myth

Now echoed by the New York Times.

3:00 PM, Jan 14, 2008 • By JOHN J. DILULIO JR.
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Such crude but contextualizing calculations aside, the right question to ask is whether the veterans, other things being equal (controlling for age, race, gender, education, income, prior criminal history, and other variables), offend at rates that are significantly different from otherwise comparable groups (including groups that have an extreme PTSD incidence). Without doing the relevant statistical (multiple-regression) analyses with all the requisite empirical data, it is impossible to say.

In April 2007, BJS issued a detailed report showing that veterans were half as likely as non-veterans to be in prison, but that was explained mainly by the fact that two-thirds of male veterans in the population at large were aged 55 or older (older people are less likely to be found behind bars). The incarcerated veterans were somewhat more likely than incarcerated non-veterans to have committed violent crimes, and far more likely to have committed violent crimes against females or minors. There is, however, no evidence at all that ex-military personnel, including veterans who served in combat theatres and saw action, figure significantly or disproportionately in murder, rape, robbery, burglary, or property crimes.

The "Deadly Echoes" story spotlighted an important issue and sensitively profiled several tragic incidents. In many respects it was a model piece of journalism. But, in such a lengthy report, the Times should have done more to put its 121 cases against a broader data backdrop or two, been clearer about what nobody really knows about the subject, and taken much greater care than it did to avoid echoing what the VFW, in a 2006 story referenced by the reporters, rightly rejected as the "wacko-vet" myth.

John J. DiIulio Jr. is a contributing editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.