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A nation's shame

2012-04-15 15:23:07.742663+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

New York Times OpEd: A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame. For every U.S. soldier killed overseas, 25 veterans commit suicide.

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2012-04-15 16:01:40.157953+00 by: jims

21M US veterans. Almost all male. US male suicide rate is 19/100000 per year. That predicts about 4000 veteran suicide per year. The article said 6500 (I think, the pay wall attacked me and I can't check now).

It certainly asks to be analyzed with finer bins to see what can be addressed, but it is in the ballpark of the normal human experience.

#Comment Re: made: 2012-04-15 20:30:32.822934+00 by: ebradway [edit history]

jims: I assume you got the 19/100,000 rate from Wikipedia article on Suicide Rates by country? I can't find the source for the Wikipedia article. The article claims this WHO chart on suicide rates but the rate for US Males is 17.7/100,000, not 19/100,000.

At 17.7/100,000, the "ballpark of the normal human experience" should be 3717 out of 21M veterans. The 6,500 figure is 75% higher than "normal".

Do you have another source for the 19/100,000 figure? Even if it's correct, the 6,500 suicides per year is a 63% increase. Are you saying that is not statistically significant?

But the point of the article is that the DOD reports 6,413 total US Military casualties over the durations of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Enduring Freedom. If we divide that number by the 9 years since the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom (and generously "amortize" the casualties of the other two, shorter operations over the longer period), that means 713 American Soldiers died per year in the line of duty. Even using your unsubstantiated figure of 19/100,000 suicides per year, an additional 2500 American Soldiers have died due to suicide beyond the 4000 figure that you cite as "the ballpark of normal human experience".

Even using your unsubstantiated statistics and grossly rounding down, more than three times as many American Soldiers are lost to a statistically significant increase in suicide than are lost in the line of duty.

#Comment Re: made: 2012-04-15 22:59:15.367719+00 by: Jim S

I did get that statistic from the wikipedia page (and I generally round to 1 or 2 digits when using numbers from unveiled sources). Any kind of accurate analysis is going to need more factors since a person gets into the veterans category by a life defining self selection, it isn't a random sampling of American males.

There should be a study to break it down and determine if there is actually an abnormally high suicide rate among veterans relative to their non-veteran peers. (I wouldn't bet money on either outcome of that study.) But there is a long list of mental health issues that the federal government is not interested in treating, including groups with frighteningly high suicide rates. Maybe veterans' service status can get them special consideration to fund their studies and treatment.

#Comment Re: made: 2012-04-16 16:39:18.183876+00 by: andylyke

It may also be deceiving to use the whole population of veterans as a base, since many of them never actually saw action, some served when vets were honored, some when they are overcommitted to combat and dishonored in the community (now).

#Comment Re: made: 2012-04-17 20:36:39.019505+00 by: ebradway

Huh? Dan originally linked to an OpEd piece in the NYTimes. Do you really expect detailed statistical analysis from that source? And why the incredulity about the statistics in the article? Do you find it hard to believe that suicides have increased among recent war veterans relative to the population as a whole?

The DOD does track very detailed statistics on suicide. I suspect this OpEd piece may have cherry picked some stats but that still doesn't explain why we are being so critical.

I applaud any effort to better understand the cost of war to our society. With any luck, we'll go into future boondoggles at least knowing what it's going to cost in the long run. Maybe that will prevent the warmongers from overcommitting our forces. Maybe my attitude is different living in Colorado where there is a significant juxtaposition between the very military-centric Colorado Springs area and the peacenik Boulder County. Even the peaceniks have to grapple with how to handle the influx of Veterans coming back from Iraq and Afganistan. One thing is quite clear, there is a marked increase in violence and suicide relative to what Colorado experienced before the troops started to return enmass. As Afganistan winds down, hopefully we'll have better support in place.