Thursday, November 15, 2007


Statistic of the Day: Veteran suicides

Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror... 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 [in this age group] was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.) —Dr. Steve Rathbun, acting head of the Epidemiology and Biostatistics Department at the University of Georgia, as quoted by CBS News in "Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans"

Unable to get nationwide statistics on veteran suicides from the Defense Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), CBS went through the death statistics of 45 states to ferret out the numbers. Now that the "shocking" and "epidemic" numbers are in, demands for "action" by the political class are swift in coming.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, a Democrat from Hawaii and chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, hurried to respond with this bit of palaver—

The report that the rate of suicide among veterans is double that of the general population1 is deeply troubling and simply unacceptable. I am especially concerned that so many young veterans appear to be taking their own lives. For too many veterans, returning home from battle does not bring an end to conflict. There is no question that action is needed."

Deeply troubling. Simply unacceptable. No question. And, Senator, the action that is needed (and which you fail to specify) is to end the war. There is no quick fix for mending broken minds. For many veterans suicide will remain the only fix.



1Notice how Akaka tones down the findings. Akaka here is referring to the rate of suicides for all veterans rather than to the much higher rate among young people returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, it is misleading to speak of the overall rate, since it includes the numbers for these young people. Inclusion of their numbers may largely explain why the overall rate is so high.

Without the raw data I cannot recalculate the numbers, but a more telling contrast would be between the rate for 20–24-year-old returnees from the current wars with that of older veterans. [back]

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