April 22, 2008

How Many Military Suicides?

The San Francisco Chronicle posts this without question:

More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled, veterans advocates told a federal judge Monday in San Francisco.

The rights of hundreds of thousands of veterans are being violated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, "an agency that is in denial," and by a government health care system and appeals process for patients that is "broken down," Gordon Erspamer, lawyer for two advocacy groups, said in an opening statement at the trial of a nationwide lawsuit.

He said veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 a day - a number acknowledged by a VA official in a Dec. 15 e-mail - and the agency's backlog of disability claims now exceeds 650,000, an increase of 200,000 since the Iraq war started in 2003.

We're looking at the conflation of multiple claims here, so lets take them one at a time:

More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide every week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled, veterans advocates told a federal judge Monday in San Francisco.

There is no way to get a constant figure of X per week, but if they are presuming that 120/week figure from the beginning of the Iraq War on March 20, 2003, we're talking 1860 days (not including today), rounding down to 265 weeks * 120 suicides/week = 31,800 suicides of Iraq and Afghan War veterans.

If we instead presume they arrived at 120/week starting with the October 7, 2001 war with Afghanistan, we're looking at 2389 days (not including today), rounding down to 341 weeks * 120 suicides/week = 41,920 suicides of Iraq and Afghan War veterans.

Are they trying to tell us between 31,000-41,000 modern war veterans have committed suicide, and we're just now starting to notice, five years later?

* * *

The 18/suicides a day figure seems to quietly leave out which wars are covered, and could be construed to assume the aging veterans of WWII, Korean, Vietnam, and other campaigns as well as Iraq and Afghanistan. It would seem prudent to assume that many of these may be due to issues perhaps unrelated to PTSD caused a half-century or more before in many instances.

If they do mean all veterans, regardless of war, but measure from the start of the Afghan war at a rate of 18 suicides a day, we wind up with 43,002 suicides for all veterans of all wars during this time period. If we instead use the 18 suicides/day figure from the beginning of the Iraq War, we wind up with 33,480 suicides for all veterans of all wars during this time period.

Are they trying to tell us between 33,000-43,000 U.S. military war veterans have committed suicide in the past 5-8 years, and we're just now starting to notice?

According to the math cited here, the VA may be shorting veterans on care, but they excel at hidden burials.

We are not treating out veterans with nearly the care and respect for their service as we should, but I'd be shocked if we were losing as many as these figures suggest.

Posted by Confederate Yankee at April 22, 2008 04:16 PM

Interesting numbers to be sure. I can state for fact that Veterans (of that "ALL" category) are dying at high rates based simply on observations regarding VA Home admittance figures. I highly doubt they are dying due to suicide.

My ex-father-in-law was just admitted yesterday to a VA home in NE. Their waiting list is pages long. He only waited 2 months though. That means a lot of residents at this particular facility are dying rather frequently. He's a Korean era vet who never went to Korea though. So he simply can't qualify for PTSD.

Posted by: Mark at April 22, 2008 05:09 PM

This does not make any sense.

National Suicide Statistics (2005) show a total for the entire nation at 32,637. That is the latest tally I can find.

Posted by: Sara at April 22, 2008 05:18 PM

"...if they are presuming that 120/week figure from the beginning of the Iraq War on March 20, 2003 .... "If we instead presume they arrived at 120/week starting with the October 7, 2001 war with Afghanistan ..."

I think the problem is in presuming either. It seems clear they're saying the CURRENT rate. Well, currently there are several million vets from all three wars. No time to look up the number. In any event, dollars to doughnuts their source is NOT the VA but CBS News's own "investigation" that I ripped apart here:

Posted by: Michael Fumento at April 22, 2008 05:35 PM

The numbers do seem wrong. However, I've been led to understand it is a real problem.

My first cousin returned home two weeks ago from a blood clot in his lungs associated with his spending his duty in Iraq crouched up in a turret. He's dealing with some real issues from the stress and being targeted all the time in their vehicle, and is (as his dad says) a real head case.

He got to see his wife and baby daughter a week ago and due to readjustment problems, tried to kill himself after some minor family argument he couldn't handle. He's being treated at Walter Reed and they're adjusting medications. From what my uncle has explained, it's a problem they're overwhelmed with there.

Granted, this is just anecdotal data and one point does not a trend make, but from what we've learned, the stresses our soldiers are under with the constant hidden threat is a factor. Say a prayer for our guys and more importantly, be there for them when they come home.

Posted by: redherkey at April 22, 2008 05:36 PM

Unfortunately the VA is what we can all expect if we get "universal health care." The government can't run anything worth a damn

Posted by: Capitalist Infidel at April 22, 2008 05:46 PM

I know of two suicides that would be counted as military suicides and neither were combat-related. One was an active duty guy who came home after a year long Vietnam tour to find his wife in bed with another man. The other was a family argument where the father mocked him as being "only half the soldier his buddies in WWII were." Both left notes detailing their reasons. Both would be classified as military suicides.

My experience over my husband's long career was that those who went into the service with prexisting baggage and/or attitude problems usually didn't fare all that well psychologically. Many became drug addicts or alcoholics and were, in general, a mess. But, I would venture to say that they would have probably ended up the same way anyway, although it might have take longer.

Posted by: Sara at April 22, 2008 05:50 PM

I hear so many horror stories about the VA, I figure they must be true. However, 2 years ago, my cousin called on the VA for help with my Uncle. He was a WWII vet who was with McArthur in the Philippines. I spent some time with them during that period and I was very impressed with what the VA provided for him. He was outpatient, living with my cousin, but they provided wheelchair transportation any time she needed it, they sent in a hospital bed, a special wheelchair, even nurses aide help for her so that she could still work nights. All his medication was free, as were any first aid or sanitary supplies she needed for my Uncle's care. And they provided all his therapy, even picking him up at home 3 times a week to take him to the hospital facility.

This is my only exposure to the VA care I've had, but I was impressed and so was my cousin. BTW, this was in Pittsburgh.

Posted by: Sara at April 22, 2008 05:57 PM

I agree with Sara. I was a token phone guest on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation when two men discussed the planned emotional deprograming service the government intended to help returning War on Terror veterans. I described my unusual experiences, and one man said I was a "perfect storm" the sort of person the program was designed to help.

I had some problems when I returned home, but I never drank, did drugs or deviated from the course I had set for myself. Some of the worst experiences happened after my return home, since Vietnam Era veterans received a less than perfect welcome. To this day, I don't like anti war protesters.

Posted by: James at April 22, 2008 06:05 PM

When I first heard of this a few months ago, I too was skeptical. Here's your source document, a CBS investigation from last year.

I was writing an editorial about the reports, which I was concerned might be statistical projection. But the CBS data were hard counts of state death certificates. Actually an impressive piece of work.

Posted by: km at April 22, 2008 06:28 PM

KM, you might want to read the earlier comment from Mr. Michael Fumento, who looked at that CBS investigation already and posted about it above.

Posted by: C-C-G at April 22, 2008 06:54 PM

Well, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, veterans are twice as likely as non veterans to commit suicide.

Given that there are approximately 23,532,000 veterans in the US (VA statistics as of Jan '08) and approximately 300,000,000 people living in the US, that would mean that approximjately 765 non veterans commit suicide each week, which should put our suicide death rate in the neighborhood of 39,780 non veterans per annum. If we assume that the additional 6240 veterans are then added to this number we find, not too surprisingly, that a deviation of over 42% from the reported numbers. I would call that a gross exaggeration (of course others may call it a lie).

Posted by: David at April 22, 2008 07:51 PM

Looks like the Chronicle has a problem with their unit of time...

The Russian press says 89 confirmed suicides and 32 "under investigation" makes 121 suicides during 2007 (a year, not a week). According to the Russians, this was a 20% increase over 2006.

Posted by: scp at April 22, 2008 09:25 PM

Remember the missing children craze of the 80's? The plantive pictures on milk cartons? "Have you seen me?" Before long, the numbers of missing children exceeded the numbers of troops killed in Vietnam. It was only when someone did a bit of thinking and realized that those numbers couldn't possibly be right that it was discovered that the number of legitimatelly missing kids was actually in the very low double digits a year--for the nation. Seen any plantive milk cartons lately?

I suspect that something similar will soon happen with this issue. Such always happens when the media relies on what they believe ought to be true rather than what is. Tragic how reality so often follows conservative lines of thought rather than liberal, isn't it?

Posted by: Mike at April 22, 2008 09:28 PM

It sounds like "whole cloth" was involved.

Posted by: Neo at April 22, 2008 10:58 PM

Where do you THINK they get Soylent Green?

This explains a lot.

Posted by: George Bruce at April 23, 2008 02:37 PM

I wonder why this story has dropped from every major publication today?

In testimony today, a VA critic says the suicide rate for vets in 2007 was estimated at between 3.2 abd 7.5 times the public rate. In 2004 the public rate was 32,459 x 7.5 = 243,443 suicides? X 3.2 = 103,869? I can't find the figures for 2007, but if they were close to the 2004 totals are they really trying to tell us that between 103,869 and 243,443 veterans killed themselves last year? I'm sorry but I think that is patently absurd.

It is most likely that they "attempt" suicide in those numbers, and who is the verifier of the "attempt"? What are the criterion in labeling an "attempted suicide"?

The VA most definitely needs to be restructured and needs to cater to our vets, but I don't think pushing such and absurd meme is the way to go about it.

Posted by: Cheryl at April 23, 2008 04:16 PM

Cheryl, remember they're talking "rate", i.e. numbers per hundred thousand or whatever such measure they use, not "total" numbers. So it all depends on the number of veterans to begin with.

The following numbers are rough, back-of-the envelope calculations taken from figures above, but the math process is the idea I'm addressing here.

If there are 32,000 suicides in one year in the US population of 300 million, that's a rate of 10.7 suicides for every 100,000 people per year. If the veteran rate is 3.2 times that, what they're saying is the suicide rate among the vets would be 34.2 per 100,000 per year. But, of course there aren't 300 million vets. To get the total number of vet suicides in one year you would use the following math. The number of vet suicides per year would be 23,000,000 vets x (34.2 suicides / 100,0000 vets) = 7866 suicides per year.

I have no idea if the numbers used are accurate, so I don't know if they reflect the true situation and give a reality-based result, but that's the math you need to use to get to the numbers you're looking for.

Posted by: kcom at April 23, 2008 05:45 PM

And using the same math, the high end number would be 18,446 per year.

Posted by: kcom at April 23, 2008 05:49 PM

Excellent, so we can't even treat our veterans the way we should and the Dems seem to think that we can give health care to the entire country?

We can't treat the 10 or so percent that have sacrificed so much, lets wait until we can do that, OK?

And those suicide rates have to be total crap, that means that about 5% of people that come back kill themselves.

Posted by: Jeff at April 23, 2008 09:07 PM