Veterans, Suicide Rates, and the Demographics Nobody Discusses

| June 8, 2019

Back in March, Dave Hardin wrote an article about veteran suicides and studies relating to the subject.  I previously wrote a follow-up article here, where I took exception to NPR’s article and provided data refuting their implied conclusions.

But while I was doing that, something else occurred to me:  the demographics of the US veteran and nonveteran populations are probably quite different.  So I checked.

Turns out they are.  Because of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, there are proportionally far more veterans over 55 than is the case in the general population.  And a far smaller proportion of females are veterans of the US armed forces than the general population (which is somewhat over 52% female).

It also occurred to me that different demographic subgroups might well have very different rates of suicide.  Indeed they do; for starters, the suicide rate varies substantially with age and gender (they also vary by ethnicity).  But if you can find the proper demographic data – e.g., a breakout by age and gender of both the veteran population and the US general population’s suicide rates – you can account for those demographic differences and see what “right should look like” with respect to veterans.

Specifically, if you have that data you can determine if the observed US veteran suicide rate is higher than that of nonveterans after accounting for the demographic differences.  And you can also see how much higher (or lower) it is, if it’s in fact different.  All that requires is a straightforward but somewhat tedious weighted sum problem.

You can also see if different veteran age/gender subgroups are doing better or worse than their nonveteran contemporaries with respect to suicide.  Knowing that is important, too – and could be even more valuable than knowing the overall “score” when it comes to allocating VA resources.

So I decided to see if I could find the data necessary to do exactly that.

Turns out the data was readily available for the years 2005-2016.  The VA published that data in 2018 here – broken down by age group and gender (it was not, unfortunately, further broken down by ethnicity).  The data below is taken from the study’s Appendix on the linked page, which is both downloadable and in Microsoft Excel format.

I’d hoped to do a follow-up article well before now.  Unfortunately, events in the real world made that impossible.  But better late than never, I guess.

What follows is a bit long-ish.  And yes, there’s some math involved.  (smile)

Veteran Demographics

In a comment to DH’s original article, I indicated that the US veteran population is overwhelmingly male.  In that comment, I guessed 80+%.

My guess was low.  The actual figure in 2016 was a bit less than 91% male.  And since males have a markedly higher suicide rate than do women (it varies by age group, but is typically at least 2.5x or more higher) , that demographic difference between veterans as a group and the US population as a whole has to be taken into account to do any kind of fair comparison.

From the VA study linked above, here is the 2016 US veteran breakout by age and gender.  I’ve also calculated some percentages that will be useful in determining what “right should look like” later.

 

US Military Veterans, 2016
Age 18-34 35-54 55-74 75+ Total
Male 1,609,000 4,228,000 8,161,000 4,356,000 18,355,000
     Percentage 7.96% 20.93% 40.40% 21.56% 90.86%
Female 377,000 753,000 573,000 143,000 1,846,000
     Percentage 1.87% 3.73% 2.84% 0.71% 8.90%

Obviously, since almost 91% of veterans in  2016 were male, almost 91% of the overall veteran suicide rate for that year will be due to male veterans.  Since somewhat more than 55% of the US nonveteran population over the age of 18 is female – and since males have a much higher suicide rate than do females – we should expect the aggregate veteran suicide rate to be different from that for the overall and nonveteran US populations on that basis alone.

Nonveteran Demographics

Along with veteran suicide data, the same source also included suicide data for the US nonveteran population.  Like the veteran data, this data was broken out by both gender and age groups.  They appear below.

 

US Nonveteran Suicide Demographics for 2016
Age 18-34 35-54 55-74 75+ Total
Males 36,056,080 36,874,513 25,233,311 3,995,165 102,158,069
     Number of Suicides 8,853 9,965 7,028 2,021 27,862
Female 36,602,964 41,310,522 36,166,904 12,039,192 126,119,582
     Number of Suicides 2,251 3,854 2,875 506 9,486

 

Looking at the two tables immediately tells us three things.  First:  being  nearly 91% male, and given that males have a suicide rate far higher than females, veterans collectively would be expected to have a much higher overall suicide rate than either the nonveteran population (which is 55.2+% female) or the US general population (which is 51.5+% female).  Second:  since age matters greatly vis-à-vis suicide rate, the fact that nearly 2/3 of the US veteran population is over the age of 55 – with more than 1/5 of the total being over 75 – will also have an impact.  And, finally:  since the age distribution of both male and female veterans vary greatly from that of the nonveteran population, direct comparisons of suicide rates by gender will also be rather pointless.

These three factors also make clear one other fact:  any simple comparison of veteran and non-veteran suicide rates is NOT going to be particularly meaningful; rather, such a comparison will instead be misleading.  The demographics of the two groups are simply too different, age- and gender-wise.

Estimating Reality

Well, so how do we sort this out?  We have suicide rates by age category and gender for both veterans and nonveterans  – and we can also figure out the percentage of each veteran age/gender subgroup in either the total veteran population or of that gender of veterans.  So a weighted sum of the nonveteran age/gender subgroup suicide rates, using as weighting factors each age/gender subgroup’s total percentage in the veteran population, will tell us what we should expect as an overall veteran suicide rate if it is the same as that of the nonveteran population.  That in turn will tell us if a problem actually exists or not – a higher than expected aggregate rate for veterans would indicate a “problem”, while a lower than expected rate would indicate absence of an issue. (As noted above, due to demographic differences knowing this won’t really be of much utility, but hey – the media loves single number metrics.)  The magnitude of the difference will also tell us how big the “problem” is, if it exists.

Doing this will also allow something far more useful: direct comparison of the suicide rates of veteran and non-veteran populations by age and gender groups.  So if there’s a problem with a particular veteran age/gender subgroup, it will disclose that fact – and identify where the VA should be concentrating its resources devoted to suicide prevention.

About “Age Adjusted” Rates

In healthcare literature – and in the linked VA report concerning Veteran Suicide – one often sees reference to “Age Adjusted” rates.  So let’s discuss them briefly here.

BLUF:  they’re totally irrelevant when trying to determine if Veterans, as a group and by age/gender subgroup, are doing “better” or “worse” than their nonveteran counterparts.  Yet you often see them calculated and used (and IMO, grossly abused).

Short version:  age-adjusted statistics are a method that allows observed data from a population with nonstandard demographics to be mapped onto a standard population distribution.  That allows data from a group that may be demographically nonstandard to be used to draw conclusions and/or make planning decisions for healthcare services to be applied to the general population.  This link provides a description of the process and its uses.

Going the other way?  Um, not so much.  If you’re providing services to a population for which you have known demographics, those known demographics should be used as the basis for planning and allocation.  Age adjusting those known demographics to some standard population distribution simply doesn’t do much of value.  You have the known demographics for the population in question, and can project those into the future using actuarial and other techniques; you can do that instead.  No “age adjustments” are required.

Therefore, using or even discussing “Age Adjusted” statistics in the context of veteran suicide – and especially using them while making decisions about how to allocate VA resources devoted to suicide prevention – is, to be charitable, IMO not particularly useful.  IMO the terms “utterly inappropriate” or “ludicrous” would be more accurate.

We know the actual demographic distribution of veterans – and we know it’s heavily skewed towards both males (just under 91% as of 2016) and individuals 55 and older (nearly 2/3 of all veterans as of 2016).  This demographic difference is critical in deciding how to allocate the VA’s resources effectively in the short term – because the VA serves the veteran population, not the nonveteran or general populations.  And the US veteran population is also demographically very different from the distribution specified for an “age normalized” distribution.

Using an age normalized distribution for veteran suicide rates to allocate VA healthcare resources related to suicide prevention would therefore be like using Gas Buddy’s national average gas price to plan how much money you need for fuel to take a 1,200 mile road trip in California.  In both cases, you’re in effect using a type of “normalized” data to make plans relating to a situation that is known to be vastly different from “normal”; the normalized data is thus irrelevant.  In both cases, you should be using the known, relevant data instead.

A better strategy would be to do the following:

  1. separate out the US veteran and nonveteran populations;
  2. partition these two populations by gender;
  3. partition each gender into same-age subgroups;
  4. calculate the suicide rates for each resulting gender/age-group suicide rates for both veterans and non-veterans, as well as the gender and overall rates (which will be of marginal real utility, but the media seems to love them anyway); and
  5. then compare corresponding pairs of these individual age/gender subgroup suicide rates.

Doing this will allow a direct “apples-to-apples” comparison, by age group, of the veteran and non-veteran populations regarding suicide rates.  That comparison will show which groups of veterans – if any – are doing “worse” than their civilian counterparts.  (The group doing “worse” with respect to suicide rate will be the one in each corresponding pair that has the higher suicide rate.)   The resulting comparisons will also indicate where the VA should concentrate its resources regarding suicide prevention.

We can even go a step further.  Given known (as of 2016) veteran demographics, we can calculate what the male and female veteran suicide rates would have been if each veteran age/gender subgroup had exactly the same suicide rate as the corresponding nonveteran group.  Comparing that calculated figure with the observed rates for male and female veterans then indicate if male and females veterans, as a group, are doing “better” or “worse” with respect to suicide than their nonveteran contemporaries.  (Hey, the media loves that kind of stuff – even if it’s of little real utility.  It’s easy to do, and I’ll have the data.  So why not?)

Below, I’ve done exactly that.

Data, Calculations, and Rates

From the Appendix at the VA study page linked above, here is the pertinent data for US veterans and nonveterans, by gender and age, for 2016.  I’ve also calculated some percentages that will be used as weighting factors for later calculations.

 Male US Veterans, 2016
Age Range # Suicides Population Suicides/ 100k % Male Veterans % All Veterans
18-34 840 1,609,000 52.2 8.766% 7.965%
35-54 1,527 4,228,000 36.1 23.035% 20.930%
55-74 2,180 8,161,000 26.7 44.462% 40.399%
75+ 1,270 4,356,000 29.2 23.732% 21.563%
Total 5,822 18,355,000 31.7 100.000% 90.862%

 

 Male US Nonveterans, 2016
Age Range # Suicides Population Suicides/ 100k % Male Nonveterans % All Nonveterans
18-34 8,853 36,056,080 24.6 35.294% 15.795%
35-54 9,965 36,874,513 27.0 36.096% 16.153%
55-74 7,028 25,233,311 27.9 24.700% 11.054%
75+ 2,021 3,995,165 50.6 3.911% 1.750%
Total 27,862 102,158,069 27.3 100.000% 44.752%

 

 Female US Veterans, 2016
Age Range # Suicides Population Suicides/ 100k % Female Veterans % All Veterans
18-34 53 377,000 14.1 20.423% 1.866%
35-54 121 753,000 16.1 40.791% 3.728%
55-74 83 573,000 14.5 31.040% 2.836%
75+ 4 143,000 2.8 7.746% 0.708%
Total 257 1,846,000 13.9 100.00% 9.138%

 

 Female US Nonveterans, 2016
Age Range # Suicides Population Suicides/ 100k % Female Nonveterans % All Nonveterans
18-34 2,251 36,602,964 6.1 29.022% 16.034%
35-54 3,854 41,310,522 9.3 32.755% 18.097%
55-74 2,875 36,166,904 7.9 28.677% 15.843%
75+ 506 12,039,192 4.2 9.546% 5.274%
Total 9,486 126,119,582 7.5 100.000% 55.248%

 

Examining the above tables, we can draw the following conclusions:

  1. Male veterans <55 years old have substantially(35-54) to markedly (18-34) higher suicide rates than their nonveteran contemporaries.
  2. Male veterans >55 years old have slightly (55-74) to markedly (75+) lower suicide rates than their nonveteran contemporaries.
  3. For male veterans, the suicide rate peaks in the youngest age group, with a sharp drop in the next age group and a generally declining trend afterwards (there is a slight uptick for the 75+ age group, but the overall trendline appears to be declining).
  4. The opposite pattern is seen in male nonveterans, with the youngest age group having the lowest suicide rate and the rate rising with each succeeding age group, ending with a sharp increase in suicide rate for those nonveterans 75 and older.
  5. Female veterans under the age of 75 have markedly higher suicide rates than the corresponding nonveteran group.
  6. Females 75 and older have a markedly lower suicide rate than the corresponding nonveteran group.

Due to gross demographic differences between US veteran and nonveteran populations, it is meaningless to compare directly the overall male and female suicide rates for veterans and nonveterans.  However, it is possible to determine whether male veterans and female veterans collectively have a higher or lower suicide rate than they would if their suicide rates by age group were the same as their nonveteran contemporaries.  Doing so is nothing but a simple weighted-sum problem, where it is assumed that veterans have the same suicide rates as their nonveteran contemporaries but veteran demographics are used to provide the weighting factors.  Those calculations are presented next.

What “Right Should Look Like”

In the previous section, we have both veteran and nonveteran suicide rates by age group and gender.  We also have the percentages that each veteran age/gender group constitutes for both their gender and of veterans overall.  That means we have enough information to calculate what “right should look like” – e.g., we can calculate what the male, female, and overall veteran suicide rates would be if veterans had the same suicide rate as their nonveteran contemporaries.

It’s a simple if perhaps tedious weighted-sum problem.  The individual veteran subgroup percentage is used as a weighting factor; the general population suicide rate for that age/gender subgroup is the multiplied by that weighting factor.  Summing these produces a weighted sum that tells us what “right should look like” for male and female veterans – that it, what the suicide rate for male and female veterans would be if the two populations had exactly the same suicide rates as did nonveterans.

 

Expected Male and Female Veteran Suicide Rates, Corrected for Known Veteran Demographics
Male Veterans Female Veterans
Age Group % Male Veterans Nonveteran Suicide Rate Expected Subgroup Contribution Age Group % Female Veterans Nonveteran Suicide Rate Expected Subgroup Contribution
18-34 8.766% 24.6 2.16 18-34 20.423% 6.1 1.25
35-54 23.035% 27.0 6.22 35-54 40.791% 9.3 3.79
55-74 44.462% 27.9 12.41 55-74 31.040% 7.9 2.45
75+ 23.732% 50.6 12.01 75+ 7.746% 4.2 0.33
Expected Male Veteran Suicide Rate: 32.79 Expected Female Veteran Suicide Rate: 7.82

 

The observed suicide rates for male veterans and female veterans are 31.7 and 13.9, respectively.  So that means that male vets have zero problem, while female vets have a big issue – right?

Yes . . . and no.  And it points out just how misleading reducing the problem to a single number really can be.

As seen in the previous section above, male veterans 18-34 have a huge issue regarding veteran suicide – that group’s suicide rate is literally more than twice that of their nonveteran contemporaries.  But the fact that veterans 55 and over have a slightly to markedly lower suicide rate than corresponding nonveterans – coupled with the fact that these older veterans constitute over 2/3 of male veterans – completely obscures that issue. (It also obscures the fact that male veterans aged 35-54 have a substantially higher suicide rate than their nonveteran counterparts.)

The female veteran overall suicide rate number, on the other hand, appears indicative of a real problem.  Only female veterans 75 or older have a lower suicide rate than their nonveteran contemporaries; female veterans younger than 75 have a markedly higher suicide rate than their nonveteran contemporaries.  Since female veterans 75 and older make up less than 8% of the female veteran population, in this case their lower rate doesn’t hide the larger problem.

For completeness, here’s the overall veteran calculation.  The methodology is the same; the weighting factors are % of veteran population vice % of veteran gender group.

Expected Overall Veteran Suicide Rate, Corrected for Known Veteran Demographics
Male Veterans Female Veterans
Age Group % of Veterans Nonveteran Suicide Rate Expected Subgroup Contribution Age Group % of Veterans Nonveteran Suicide Rate Expected Subgroup Contribution
18-34 7.965% 24.6 1.96 18-34 1.866% 6.1 0.11
35-54 20.930% 27.0 5.65 35-54 3.728% 9.3 0.35
55-74 40.399% 27.9 11.27 55-74 2.836% 7.9 0.22
75+ 21.563% 50.6 10.91 75+ 0.708% 4.2 0.03
Expected Overall Veteran Suicide Rate: 30.51

 

The VA study appendix data gives the overall veteran suicide rate as 30.1.  The overall number, adjusted to take into account veteran demographics, would lead one to believe that veterans are doing better than the general population.  That’s true for some age/gender groups, and false for others. Comparison here also fails to give any insight on reality, once again showing that attempting to reduce a complex situation to a meaningful single-number metric is quite difficult.  But the media loves to use such simple – and often meaningless – single-number metrics.

Bottom Line.

The issue of veterans and suicide is complex.  No single number I’ve found portrays it adequately; that’s true for veterans collectively and for veterans partitioned by gender.

For males, the situation is both good and bad.  Male veterans as a group actually have a lower suicide rate than male nonveterans; this is due to the grossly age-skewed nature of the US male veteran population vice the male US nonveteran population.  But the situation is somewhat “bipolar”, if you will; older male veterans (55 and up) are doing slightly to markedly better than nonveterans with respect to suicide rate, while males veterans less than age 55 have a higher suicide rate than nonveteran contemporaries – and the 18-34 age group appears to be badly hurting on that score.

For female veterans, the situation is worse.  Female veterans as a group have a substantially higher suicide rate than their nonveteran contemporaries.  That’s because female veterans have a substantially higher suicide rate than their nonveteran contemporaries at all ages below 75.  Only female veterans 75 or older have a lower suicide rate than the corresponding group of nonveterans – and they comprise only about 8% of female veterans, so that doesn’t mask the overall problem.

In any case, if there’s a significant problem or “crisis” regarding veteran suicide the media appears to have it completely wrong.  (No surprise there.)  Any such “crisis” is not among elderly veterans.  Rather, the serious problems appear to be among young male veterans and female veterans under the age of 75. These two groups together make up about 16.5% of the veteran population, and each has a suicide rate markedly higher than their non-veteran counterparts.  Male veterans age 55 and up – a group that makes up roughly 62% of all veterans, and which the media seems to think are in “crisis” – are actually doing better with respect to suicide rate than their nonveteran contemporaries (in the case of veterans 75 and up, far better). The demographic differences between the veteran and nonveteran population obscures these facts unless one takes a more detailed look at the data than a cursory overall rate comparison.

This is not an attempt at minimizing or ignoring the issue of veteran suicides.  But trying to reduce the issue of veteran suicide to a single number that can explain what’s going on is both misleading and foolish.  It’s misleading, because veterans demographics guarantees the overall veteran suicide rate will be higher than that of the nonveteran population – though for male veterans, it’s actually lower than it should be if veterans mirrored the general population with respect to suicide rates.  And it’s foolish, because reality here is more complex than a single number can portray.  Whether the statement that “veterans commit suicide more frequently than non-veterans” is true or false depends on precisely which subgroups of veterans you’re talking about.

Why?

So, why don’t we ever seem to see veteran demographics – and their expected impact due to the fact that veterans as a group are 90+% male and generally are older than nonveterans – discussed in detail in published articles concerning veteran suicide?  I have my own theory.  It can be summed up in three words: “Follow the money.”

Small differences don’t usually get the American public’s attention; they also don’t justify increased budgets for studies or win Pulitzer prizes.  But dramatic differences can get attention – and can be used as justification to garner more funding for research, to help “fix the problem”, or gain fame for journalists (and thus higher future incomes).  That’s true whether those “dramatic differences” are real or not.  Now tell me:  would journalists, bureaucrats, and researchers ever present dramatic cases based on misleading metrics that might not reflect the full story when they’re asking for money or presenting a news story?  (smile)

Further, doing something along those lines is virtually a “no-lose” scenario.  Those doing so know full well that only rarely will someone double-check their math, methodology, or underlying assumptions.  That’s true even if it’s possible to find the information necessary to double check; and finding the info often isn’t easy and sometimes isn’t possible.  So even when done intentionally instead of through ignorance, using misleading numerical data and to support a questionable or false conclusion (AKA “cooking the books”) is often a low-risk proposition.

The media seems to have focused on the “elderly veteran” angle.  Here, they’re using a misleading number and making a comparison that is simply not valid because of major demographic differences between the populations.  Why?  My guess is that it’s because it’s sensational. (“Just look at how we’ve failed those poor, helpless elderly vets.  We need more money to fix the problem!”)  Maybe they simply didn’t know any better. But do you really expect them to admit they were “out to lunch” yet again regarding this latest bogus reporting on veterans and veterans’ issues any time soon?

In reality, a close examination of the data shows that it’s young male veterans – not older ones – who are hurting the worst with respect to suicide; female veterans younger than 75 are a close second.  For each of those groups, the suicide rate either approaches doubling or more than doubles that of the corersponding group in the nonveteran population.  But the best I can tell, neither of those facts are much discussed in the media.

Why?  Maybe it doesn’t “support the agenda”.  Maybe it’s because females and younger male veterans each comprise less than 10% of all veterans.  Maybe the media hasn’t noticed it because they don’t “do math”.  Maybe there’s some other reason.  Dunno.  But best I can tell, the numbers say that each is a real issue.

Whether one or more political agendas are also at work, well, decide that for yourself.  I have my own opinion here, but I prefer to deal in hard fact vice speculation.

 

Author’s Note:  edited after publication to (1) correct an unintentional error in wording, (2) change one section title to better reflect the section’s subject, and (3) replace all occurrences of the word “peers” with “contemporaries”.

Category: "The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves", "Your Tax Dollars At Work", Media!, Veterans Issues

Comments (20)

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  1. Slow Joe says:

    I have a headache….

  2. 5th/77th FA says:

    Whew! Gee Teach, didn’t know summer skool wuz gonna be this involved. How many Vets could have been helped if the resources allocated for this had of been spent else where? Lies, damn lies, and statistics. If the empirical data doesn’t fit the narrative, make the narrative fit the data. Or to paraphrase the Guv in Blazing Saddles; “Gentlemen we have to justify our phoney baloney jobs.”

    More older Vets cause back yonder, the draft made more people Vets. More younger Vets clocking out because of some many multiple deployments? Some of these troops/troopettes mighta had what, 4 or 5 deployments since ’01? Keep an eye on all of your loved ones. There but for the Grace of God go us.

    Well done, Hondo. No wonder it took awhile to do this follow up.

  3. 26Limabeans says:

    That was a long read and obviously a lot of work to assemble let alone digest.
    My first pass takeaway is that older male veterans are much better adjusted to life than all the other groups.

    “Male veterans >55 years old have slightly (55-74) to markedly (75+) lower suicide rates than their nonveteran peers”

  4. streetsweeper says:

    Very well done, Hondo. I know some people that run around espousing the “22 a day” vernacular they’ve become accustomed to spouting, they need to read your research and look at revising their position.

    I base my opinion on those people can’t tell you or me the age group involved in their “facts” but that they can only say “22 a day”. In fact, I know one person that was poaching my friends list on FB for veterans he can “help” or “mentor”.

    Excellent work, keep it up troop. Drive on.

  5. Ret_25X says:

    This matches with my experience while still serving. In general, I wasn’t worrying over my senior soldiers, but over my “kids”.

    The 18-34 age group is generally less resilient, meaning the impact of any negatives in life hits them hard and they have not been taught any coping mechanisms or strategies. The military is a school of hard knocks compared to what the average kid experiences.

    Also, the military itself has not “toughened” this group enough before they show up at the unit expected to deal with the Darwinian nature of military life.

    The 55-74 group and 75+ groups are far more resilient and their young days reflected the harsh nature of life far more. This likely made them more resilient overall. However, within such groups it is more likely they are experiencing losses of family members as well as their own losses of mobility, hearing, sight, etc. Stressful to be sure.

    As for why the “elderly veteran” meme is used and why it is so toxic–well, 18-34 year olds basically no longer pay taxes and historically don’t vote.

    • Jus Bill says:

      It might be interesting if military retirees could be separated and analyzed compared to the “one- or two-hitch veterans” in the older age cohorts.

  6. Mason says:

    Good analysis, Hondo. This actually jives with my personal, anecdotal experience, that veteran suicides are usually the young guys. I’d guess most of the guys with serious mental issues that make it past mid-life either came to terms with their demons or gotten the help they need.

    The only elderly veteran suicides I have personal experience with is, like many here have supposed, due more to physical rather than mental health issues. I worked a few elderly vet suicides and it was always because they didn’t want to waste away in hospice.

    • akpual says:

      Another reason for elderly suicide may be loss of spouse.

      • David says:

        Funny, I was reading the part about female veteran suicide and thinking my wife is safe: she’s far more likely to off me than herself (she started her Army career going through the last WAC BCT cycle.)

    • Poetrooper says:

      And yet another cause may be related to chronic pain that can’t be alleviated by medications.

      • Hondo says:

        Especially given the current push by Federal authorities to make opiates (even low-end stuff like Tramadol and acetominophen with codeine) exceptionally difficult if not nearly impossible to prescribe.

        Yeah, there’s an opiate problem. But sometimes low-dose opiates work better than anything else for the control of chronic pain – and in some cases, are the only thing that works worth a damn.

  7. SgtBob says:

    Nail on the head: “Maybe they simply didn’t know any better.” Journalists are lazy. Journalists don’t know how to verify. Numbers take too much work. I worked 15 years on five daily newspapers in Texas, fired by three. Insubordination, insubordination and po’d some politicians and advertisers.

  8. Ex-PH2 says:

    Sensationalism sells better than ‘just the facts, ma’am’.

  9. OWB says:

    Thanks, Hondo, for doing the heavy lifting for us. You have answered quite a few of my questions.

    Some of us have long said that while we certainly are concerned that everything possible be done to reduce the number of suicides among vets, we were not at all convinced by the numbers quoted. And, many of us have said that to properly deal with this (or any other issue) you must first begin with an honest analysis of the problem you propose to solve.

    But, for those who view talking about something is as good as, or better than, actually doing something about it, the numbers don’t matter. Facts don’t matter. Reality doesn’t matter. They talked about it therefore they feel good about themselves and their concern for whatever issue they have declared a problem this week.

  10. rgr769 says:

    Also, let’s not lose sight of the fact that just because someone served in the military at some point in his/her life does not mean that service had anything to do with that person’s suicide. I suspect that a serious illness and problems in one’s personal life causes more suicides than unpleasant experiences in combat. Many people who seem to have everything to live for off themselves; Robin Williams is a case in point.

    • Inbred Redneck says:

      Yeah, I’m 71 and at about the age where some folks have been know to face long, debilitating illnesses. Were I to be in such shape and decide I didn’t want to face a protracted struggle and wanted to end it now, peacefully or otherwise, I’d just become another veteran who suicided. Not that having served would have any bearing on such a decision, but we all know how some folks love to give vets victim status.
      Great article, Hondo, and thanks for puttin’ in all that work.

  11. Jus Bill says:

    Great work, Hondo. We owe you a debt of gratitude for this.

  12. Chase says:

    Hondo,

    I’m a lurker on this site and rarely comment, but this article and your statistical breakdown gets a giant standing ovation from me. I have an educational background in social statistics, and one of the first things I learned is that numbers can be cherry-picked to support a narrative. These numbers generally disregard the weighted sum you described so very well in the article, such that the real numbers are hardly ever revealed. Many times, a report will lump populations together improperly (“big ‘N’ vs. little ‘n'”), or they do a simple derivative calculation without the proper breakdown of the groups. These mistakes end up not being real statistics at all. You did your due diligence with your research. I hope many read this article and take a lesson from it.