CBS Cooks the Books on Vet Suicide Numbers?

Rick Moran
The headline is sensational: "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans" says CBS News. The network asked all 50 states (45 responded) for their suicide data for veterans and non veterans going back to 1995. What they found was disturbing:


In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year. 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.)
But a deeper look at the numbers reveals something even more surprising; the suicide rate for vets is only slightly higher than it is for all males, both vet and nonvet, in the US. Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard:
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: “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.”
Jules Crittendon writing in Pajamas Media (and where the above links were found) notes the following:
The series tells us that numbers for younger veterans, 20-24 years old, are even higher than veterans overall, suggesting the “epidemic” is worsening in the current war on terror. There is nothing about how any of these numbers have changed over time, from peacetime to wartime. In fact, despite collecting data for a 10-year period, CBS draws its conclusions from just two, 2004 and 2005. I wouldn’t mind a look at the last 65 years or so, to see how the number shifts, and whether there might be any correlation with the perceived worth of any given conflict, based on polling or media coverage. Is this an epidemic or a chronic condition? Nor does CBS tell us how many of those veteran suicides are actual combat veterans.
In short, as Crittendon expertly points out, there are just too many unanswered questions to reach the conclusion that there is an "epidemic" of suicides - especially as a result of the War on Terror.

Read the rest of Jules' outstanding piece for further thoughts on why the way the media reports on the war with soldiers as "victims" actually harms our interests.
The headline is sensational: "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans" says CBS News. The network asked all 50 states (45 responded) for their suicide data for veterans and non veterans going back to 1995. What they found was disturbing:


In 2005, for example, in just those 45 states, there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year. 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.)
But a deeper look at the numbers reveals something even more surprising; the suicide rate for vets is only slightly higher than it is for all males, both vet and nonvet, in the US. Michael Goldfarb of The Weekly Standard:
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: “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.”
Jules Crittendon writing in Pajamas Media (and where the above links were found) notes the following:
The series tells us that numbers for younger veterans, 20-24 years old, are even higher than veterans overall, suggesting the “epidemic” is worsening in the current war on terror. There is nothing about how any of these numbers have changed over time, from peacetime to wartime. In fact, despite collecting data for a 10-year period, CBS draws its conclusions from just two, 2004 and 2005. I wouldn’t mind a look at the last 65 years or so, to see how the number shifts, and whether there might be any correlation with the perceived worth of any given conflict, based on polling or media coverage. Is this an epidemic or a chronic condition? Nor does CBS tell us how many of those veteran suicides are actual combat veterans.
In short, as Crittendon expertly points out, there are just too many unanswered questions to reach the conclusion that there is an "epidemic" of suicides - especially as a result of the War on Terror.

Read the rest of Jules' outstanding piece for further thoughts on why the way the media reports on the war with soldiers as "victims" actually harms our interests.