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CBS Lied, Veterans Died

11:08 AM, Nov 14, 2007 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Or at least it looked like they died, by their own hand. Here's the CBS story. According to the network:

Dr. Steve Rathbun is the acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia. CBS News asked him to run a detailed analysis of the raw numbers that we obtained from state authorities for 2004 and 2005.

It found that veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 than non-vets. (Veterans committed suicide at the rate of between 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000, compared to other Americans, who did so at the rate of 8.9 per 100,000.)

One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age. (The suicide rate for non-veterans is 8.3 per 100,000, while the rate for veterans was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)

"Wow! Those are devastating," said Paul Sullivan, a former VA analyst who is now an advocate for veterans rights from the group Veterans For Common Sense.

When I first saw this story, I went and checked the ever reliable Wikipedia for suicide rates--and as I expected, suicide rates for American men are only slightly less than the numbers CBS gave for veterans. Which I suspect could have a lot to do with the fact that veterans have a familiarity with violence and firearms that is slightly higher than average. But leave it to Bill Sweetman, who is more reliable, and on such matters more knowledgeable, than Wikipedia, to break it down:

Shock! Horror!

No.

In the US, male veterans outnumber female veterans 13:1. Since four times as many males as women commit suicide in the general population, you'd expect the rate among veterans to be close to the rate among males - 17.6/100,000 per year in 2002 - and indeed it is, if the CBS raw numbers are correct.

CBS also makes an issue of the fact that suicide rates among younger veterans exceed that of the general population by an even bigger margin - but again, that's what you'd expect, because in that age group, the male-to-female imbalance in suicide rates is greatest, almost six to one.

Suicide is tragedy. What it does not seem to be, among veterans, is an epidemic.