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Veteran Suicides
September 21, 2013 8:42 PM   Subscribe

"Why the suicide rate among veterans may be more than 22 a day. Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That's a suicide every 65 minutes. As shocking as the number is, it may actually be higher." Additional data by state can be found here.
posted by HuronBob (37 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm not so sure that number is shocking given that there are millions of veterans. Before I crank up the outrage, I'd want to see the number as a rate (per hundred thousand) compared to the rate for non-veterans.

In a country as large as ours, you can usually make anything obscure look really bad by looking at absolute numbers. A rate is usually a much more realistic (and less outrage-inducing) statistic, however.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:59 PM on September 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'd want to see the number as a rate (per hundred thousand) compared to the rate for non-veterans

Those numbers are in the second link, by state.
posted by HuronBob at 9:03 PM on September 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


Oh jeez. It's double the civilian rate in some states.
posted by figurant at 9:13 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Note that once you get over the teen-suicide hump, suicide rates increase with age. The rate among the 80+ crowd is about the same as the rate among the 15-19 crowd. Could this be a bunch of end-of-life WWII vets throwing off the numbers?
posted by Hatashran at 9:16 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


God, that's horrible.
posted by JHarris at 9:33 PM on September 21, 2013


(In fact — awesomely — the second linked article also makes available a zipfile containing the data behind their statistics. It's late here and I have things to do in the morning, so I'm resisting the urge to dig through it myself. But FWIW it looks like it includes a spreadsheet in which the suicide data are broken down by age.)
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 9:33 PM on September 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


We should consider the contractors when we think about this, too. I don't think they usually get included.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:36 PM on September 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


It is a continual sadness to me that veterans are so let down by their country. It shocked and dismayed people my age to observe the treatment of returning Vietnam vets and to realize how little they have been cared for since. The treatment of our veterans today is a far cry from the honors afforded to returning WWII servicemen along with their GI Bill benefits which contributed to the improvement of life for so many families in mid twentieth century.

These rates of suicide are shocking. I was somewhat surprised to see that the rate is highest in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada and I wonder why?
posted by Anitanola at 9:39 PM on September 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


We should consider the contractors when we think about this, too. I don't think they usually get included.

A significant percentage of contractors (particularly those with the military overseas) are veterans as well, so they're probably not skewing the veteran numbers too much.
posted by Etrigan at 9:42 PM on September 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


In related news, veterans are dying from overmedication and accidental overdoses at a much higher rate than the general population. During the last 11 years, the number of patients treated by the VA has gone up 29%; the rate of narcotic prescriptions during that same period has gone up 259%.

"He never should have been taking those many pills," said Heather Mcdonald of her late husband Scott McDonald. "But he trusted his doctors. My husband served honorably and with pride and dignity-- not to come home and die on the couch."
posted by phaedon at 10:10 PM on September 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


This information needs to be brought out every time someone is making the case for another war and saying how quick and easy and totally worth it it's going to be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:10 PM on September 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


"May" be higher? Suicides are far higher than deaths reported as suicides, for the simple reasons of social stigma and insurance denials.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:25 PM on September 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


Of the dozen or so contemporary veterans that I know, there are a few killed in action and of those who were not only two that I can think of were not wounded (in the Purple Heart way). I
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:31 PM on September 21, 2013


The problem solves itself. Or so some government report concludes.
posted by TwelveTwo at 10:41 PM on September 21, 2013


Given that males are over-represented among veterans, and that males have a much higher suicide rate than females, it seems almost misleading to compare "veteran" rates to "overall population" rates.

With an overall male suicide rate that is more than three times higher than females, a veteran suicide rate that is only twice as high as the "overall population" could even represent a lower-than-average gender-adjusted rate -- there's just no way to tell from the way the data is presented in the FPP.
posted by Dimpy at 11:23 PM on September 21, 2013 [18 favorites]


Upon looking at the links I think I agree with Dimpy: We don't have enough information to know what these rates represent. You need to know more detailed demographic information, particularly age and sex.
posted by Justinian at 11:41 PM on September 21, 2013


Actually scratch that; I think we have enough data to tentatively believe that the suicide rate may be similar to that of the same demographic in the population as a whole. Look at Alaska, for example. The rate among civilians is 28.3 per 100,000. But that includes women as Dimpy says. The rate among men in Alaska is more like 44 per 100,000 which is higher than the rate for veterans in Alaska. Not all veterans in Alaska are men but a big enough majority are that it's fair to tentatively conclude the rate among veterans and the general population are similar.

So this seems like one of those things that looks alarming at first but may not be. Or isn't more alarming than the fact that so many people in general kill themselves. Which is pretty alarming, I guess, but wasn't something we were probably thinking much about before this FPP.
posted by Justinian at 11:50 PM on September 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


The vet gets home, possibly without arms or legs or other body parts, nobody cares, the VA is understaffed with psychiatrists, and there are no jobs. Pretty grim.
posted by Cranberry at 11:56 PM on September 21, 2013


Harrow.
posted by evil otto at 1:11 AM on September 22, 2013


Should be compared to the suicide rate of civilians who own firearms, not the civilian rate in general.
posted by WhitenoisE at 2:57 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


We should consider the contractors when we think about this, too. I don't think they usually get included.

Even if the contractors are veterans too, they probably won't have coverage for their contractor-related injuries because of the bizarre way the VA accounts for post-service healthcare. This is also a problem for vets who served in secret campaigns. They suffer injuries and get PTSD, but their service record says they were a supply clerk in Nebraska so their care isn't coverable.


The vet gets home, possibly without arms or legs or other body parts, nobody cares, the VA is understaffed with psychiatrists, and there are no jobs. Pretty grim.


They are working on that, thankfully. They are a victim of their own success, perversely. They are able to save more lives, so they have more people to care for on a long term basis.
posted by gjc at 4:24 AM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Should be compared to the suicide rate of civilians who own firearms, not the civilian rate in general.

Why? What does that have to do with it? AFAIK, they don't force veterans to be gun owners. And we can't accurately count who is buying a gun just to commit suicide.
posted by gjc at 4:29 AM on September 22, 2013


It's National Suicide Prevention Month, and HuffPo has been running a good series specifically on veteran's suicides, "Invisible Casualties."

The CNN article, despite the title, is sadly short on the "whys." From a purely statistical standpoint and leaving aside issues like combat trauma, it would be logical for the veteran's suicide rate to be higher, given its gender skew (the suicide completion rate--"successful" is hardly the right word for the context--is 4 times higher among males than females) and probable higher familiarity with and access to firearms (guns are responsible for as many completed suicides as all other methods combined, and in the U.S. there are more gun deaths by suicide than there are gun deaths by homicide).

But whether or not the veteran's suicide rate is "statistically normal" if it were corrected for gender, age, firearm ownership, etc., the fact that it has been rising sharply over the past several years during a time when overall national rates have held relatively steady, should be cause for concern. "While the rate of suicides has traditionally been lower for the military ranks than for civilians, that trend has begun to reverse" (pulled from an article that's really worth reading if you're interested in the "whys").

And all that is aside from the fact that suicide in any segment of the population should be cause for concern, and specific groups may need and benefit from different emphases and programs in terms of prevention.
posted by drlith at 5:33 AM on September 22, 2013 [9 favorites]


I work on an army base, and I was worried about a veteran friend of mine who was talking about suicide, so I took the army training for suicide prevention. This was a new program, and the military was sincerely trying to grapple with the problem. But the training was essentially a powerpoint presentation that repeated over and over that depression was "NOTHING TO BE ASHAMED OF!" in a way that was making me ashamed and furtive for even being there. And I didn't get any advice that was helpful- I eventually called the town's suicide hotline to get useful advice. [Friend doing fine]
posted by acrasis at 6:29 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


No man left behind*


* on the battlefield
posted by Debaser626 at 7:28 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Even if the contractors are veterans too, they probably won't have coverage for their contractor-related injuries because of the bizarre way the VA accounts for post-service healthcare.

This isn't at all the VA's fault (and is kind of orthogonal to the original issue of contractors not being included in veteran-suicide numbers). The whole point of contractors is that they're cheaper than service members, and part of that is that they're insured under a non-VA system.

Remember, DoD != VA. They're intentionally separate, and VA is a Cabinet-level department for just that reason.

This is also a problem for vets who served in secret campaigns. They suffer injuries and get PTSD, but their service record says they were a supply clerk in Nebraska so their care isn't coverable.

I'm a Reservist, and my unit got a briefing on traumatic brain injuries this week, wherein we were told that 76 percent of TBIs happen in the U.S. A former CO of mine was the guy who sat at the Army's central casualty desk at the Pentagon in the mid-'90s and told me that on average, two soldiers die every day in peacetime, just from training accidents and car accidents on weekends and suchlike. Over the last 20 years, the largest cause of lost-time accidents -- larger by a significant margin than any other single cause -- was basketball.

Why do I say all that? To illustrate that there are always people getting hurt in the military. That Nebraska supply clerk's injury is trivially easy to pass off as "box fell on head" or even "negligent weapons discharge on range."

But besides that, those fake jobs don't really exist. Everyone is properly accounted for, because you don't have to put "Guy Who Went Into Kazakhstan To Assassinate The Prime Minister" in a job description. They still get awards, too -- if you hear some guy talking about how he earned a Medal of Honor, but it's super-classified, he's bullshitting you. I have personally written awards whose citations consisted entirely of "For services rendered to the United States" and had classified attachments detailing what they actually did to earn them.
posted by Etrigan at 7:39 AM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


I know absolute numbers can be misleading (and although the report is not explicit, I gather these are only American veterans), I worked out once that given the total number of combat deaths by Americans through all the wars and police actions from 1776 to present, an average of eight American soldiers/sailors/airmen died per day as a result of enemy action. (Obviously most days are not average: some peacetime days must have been zero and each day of Gettysburg saw a number around seventeen thousand.) It would be a fantastic irony if being a veteran were far more dangerous to life and limb than being in a war.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:42 AM on September 22, 2013


My brother was a Viet Nam veteran with a Silver Star and Purple Heart. I don't know how many missions he flew, but it was a lot. It took a long, long time for him to realize he had PTSD. When he was seriously suicidal, I'm not even sure the term existed. He would have had some emotional intensity even without his combat experience, but the PTSD made it much more severe. At his funeral (fuck you, cancer) I had the chance to talk to guys he flew with, and those are some stories I won't forget. There is no question in my mind that my brother's combat experience increased his suicidal feelings. He finally got help from the VA, ended up working with other veterans with PTSD, and it meant a lot to him. When he came from from Southeast Asia, there was no public support for him or for the other men and women who fought a war the people and government asked him to fight. I've heard people use the terms baby-killer and murderer with conviction.

My son is still in the Army, and, like most veterans of the war in Afghanistan, also Iraq, he came home uninjured but changed. Even soldiers who have a job that keeps them on base see and know the reality of war. My son came home to a country that seems to have forgotten that we are at war. There's a lot of Support the Troops rhetoric, and a lot of people sincerely thank him for his service, but the war in Afghanistan doesn't get much news, and most people don't think of the US as a country at war.

The mainstream media hasn't done even an adequate job of reporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It gets a mention when there are casualties, maybe some news about elections in Afghanistan, or a bombing. I'm mostly a pacifist, demonstrated against war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wrote my Congresspeople. But I'm an American, it's my government, we are at war, and we ought to pay some attention to the people we send to fight. I don't call every soldier a hero, but I do keep in mind that every single person who joins the military, and an awful lot of contractors, have as a requirement of their job, the possibility that they may face someone wanting to kill them, or having to kill someone on behalf of the United States. That's us, Americans, as well as the other 46 nations* who have sent troops at some point in this long war. I don't know how other countries have reported the war, or how they treat their veterans, but I hope it's better than in the US. Support the Troops - give a damn about the war. Support the Troops - provide good care for veterans.

* Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Finland, Georgia, Ireland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Sweden, Ukraine, Australia, El Salvador, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, South Korea, Tonga, United Arab Emirates, also Bahrain, Jordan, Singapore, Switzerland.
posted by Mom at 8:27 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oddly enough, it is easier to "support the troops" when they are far, far away than when they come home
posted by Renoroc at 9:03 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


The House cuts to the food stamps program, passed by the Republicans in an almost pure party-line vote (15 Rs voted against it, no D voted for it), will if it becomes law cut off 170,000 of the nearly 1 million veterans who currently receive the benefits every month.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:30 AM on September 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks Etrigan and Mom! Seriously there are what I call 'fake vets' out there.
The contractors are a mixed lot. Some are stand-up guys I can respect, and some have done terrible things. DynCorp and Xi (formerly Blackwater) have both had significant scandals.
I respect anyone who is willing to join the Service. I think we do need to get more selective as a nation about military involvement.
War messes people up. You don't have to be killed or wounded for it to mess you up.

As far as suicide goes, a lot of people who start of merely upset and depressed get worse when they don't get appropriate help and understanding. That applies even in civilian life.
Combat experience, being near a war, culture shock and re-entry shock are all added risk factors.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:39 AM on September 22, 2013


With a all due respect for Mom, and other Veterans and their families, I don't believe trying to put the general population of a war footing is the proper way to honor those who serve in our military forces. In that scenario, you have Orwell's "1984." A war-torn population is as much traumatized by war as the soldiers who pull the triggers.

The only way for that to happen here is if a large contingent of foreign troops were to occupy a significant area of the US, and we had to deal with them with guerrilla warfare. This of course assumes that a goodly number of towns and cities would get the benefit, not only of boots and bayonets, but rockets and bombs, plus a cessation of utilities anywhere the enemy decided to play. We also would get to see how it feels to beg for bread crumbs and rotten food, and lower our eyes in front of uniformed men. This is only a sketch of how collateral damage might look. You can fill examples of broken lives with you images, the ones from your family albums. See your niece working the soldiers for a little food? Here's where your nephew stopped the rifle butt with his face. There's where your house used to be before the tank put a 105 round in it. Don't try to find your dog. The burned out area is where the playground used to be. Your neighbors had set up huts there after their homes were destroyed, and, ha ha, the jets thought it was a guerrilla encampment and dropped napalm on it. Ooops.

We send our folks overseas to kill people from a culture most of us can barely imagine. We have no active outrage for the "collateral damage" happening on an hour by hour basis. If you want to keep our young people from experiencing the terrible after affects of war, the only solution is to stop sending them over there to do it. It does your own troops no honor to ignore the people they are required to kill in you name.

I am not a pacifist. I was an infantryman in Vietnam for 17 months. I spent another four or so years in electronic intelligence, observing the effects of the Cold War, and wondering if those morons were finally going to send us all to oblivion because nobody seemed to know how to drive the goddam train. I still believe that putting soldiers on the wall is as much a part of a modern world, as much as the lock and key is part of living in the city. My analogy here is that I don't think it's proper to step outside and shoot anybody who speeds down my street, or burn down the house of the guy next door because his kid plays his goddam stereo too loud to suit me.

I came home from an unpopular war. I wasn't abused by the general public. I didn't really want anybody to shake my hand and thank me. I just wanted to be left alone. I investigated aspects of the Anti-War movement, and found that some of their notions were sort of hyperbolic. But the core of the Peace Coalition seemed sound. They were for humanity, especially those factions that were getting the short-shrift: women, gays, minorities, the poor. Plus they expressed compassion for people in other countries. By this time I had stopped seeing Vietnamese as faceless threats and shadowy figures in the jungle. They were people.

I didn't mind having been a soldier. I did my job the best I knew how. I was never in one of those weird situations where a bunch of civilians get massacred. That was just luck of the draw, because I worked in small teams, and it was all much more focused that when a battalion of boonie rats go sweeping through an area. It was usually the six of us in any initial encounter, plus whatever air strikes of artillery we had to draw on when we hit paydirt. My memories are grim, but they are laced with the excitement of gunfights and associated results. Other visions, of starving civilians, hollow-eyed women supervising their children as they pick through the slop thrown out of our mess facility, are more disturbing to me that memories of dead enemy soldiers. An overarching sense of a beautiful country filled with lovely people being reduced to anarchy is not something I ever want to see again. Yet, there's CNN, Fox, and our State Department, running down the old trails, seemingly indifferent. Ah well.

I am definitely not a pacifist. But I prefer diplomacy rather than force. We cannot insist on our role as sole arbitrator of the world's affairs. At some point we will find ourselves alone, outnumbered, and facing a hostile world that has had enough gunboat diplomacy to suit it, and replace our version of the global hegemony with one that's based more on their needs than ours.

You want to honor your soldiers? Get your goddam government to quick sending them off on wars of choice under ridiculous reasoning. You'll have the added benefit of making all the PTSD trouble less of an issue. Oh, and in case it matters, you'll quit killing off men, women and children that are doing you no harm.
posted by mule98J at 10:46 AM on September 22, 2013 [16 favorites]


I need to explain 'fake vets' these are guys who may have paraphernalia related to 'their war'. Everything bit of bad behavior they get up to is explained )excused?) by their experiences. They generally can't account for specific time-frames. They did many 'secret missions'
I have encountered a few guys like this.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:47 AM on September 22, 2013


Katjusa: I have encountered a few guys like this.

Me too. Nobody drove a truck in Vietnam, or serviced a water point. My neighbor across the street was a LRRP working for the CIA in Laos. Well, he did that on a special assignment from his unit, the 101st, because he had special skills. He can't talk about it, of course.

I've seldom had enough interest in these types to call them out. A couple of questions usually satisfies me that they are full of shit. I don't follow the "stolen valor" rage, but I do resent it when guys falsify their service and take benefits away from guys who actually earned them...they cheat them, not only in the money they steal, but in the valuable time spent by the adjudicators who process their claims, and the appointments they consume at the VA that make it that much harder for the qualified veteran to find a parking place, get a needed appointment, and so on.

Plus, I knew heroes, and these posers taint their service with their sleaze. They are pathetic, and deserve some sort of sympathy, but still, they are dog-shit in my eyes.

I started going to our outfit's reunions a few years ago, just to get a sense of order. Mostly I go to the LRRP/Ranger dustups, but last month I went to the 50th anniversary reunion of the 173'd, in Las Vegas. I haven't seen any posers at these venues.

I can't tell you what it's like to see a man I've not seen in 45 years: who covered me while I lay in short grass, watching a line of PAVNs walk past me. He would have killed the first of them who noticed me. This is hard, heavy stuff, and a man would be a fool to forget how it works.

At Las Vegas, he saw me standing next to a table in the hospitality room, walked straight up to me and said, "Hi Mark. You can keep the boots." (long story, perfect thing to say.)
posted by mule98J at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


Most statistics of the form (incidents)/(period of time) aren't necessarily useful for getting a handle on a problem, because time is constant, but incidents will always increase with population. The more useful info is the ratio of suicide rates for veterans vs. non-veterans. There, the comparisons are most interesting, and it suggests that the Mountain West is having the biggest difficulty with veteran suicides.
posted by jonp72 at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2013


figurant: "Oh jeez. It's double the civilian rate in some states."

And THAT is what should have been in the FPP. That is the lede; not some number that is virtually meaningless as a statistic.

Example: Suppose the stat was "A veteran commits suicide every 16 minutes!!!". That's horrible! We need to do something about this! ... except that hypothetical statistic would mean veterans were better off than the general population.


Justinian: " The rate among men in Alaska is more like 44 per 100,000 which is higher than the rate for veterans in Alaska. Not all veterans in Alaska are men but a big enough majority are that it's fair to tentatively conclude the rate among veterans and the general population are similar.

So this seems like one of those things that looks alarming at first but may not be. Or isn't more alarming than the fact that so many people in general kill themselves. Which is pretty alarming, I guess, but wasn't something we were probably thinking much about before this FPP.
"


And... looks like it might even be true.

Honestly, this FPP is just yellow journalism.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:58 PM on September 23, 2013


The House cuts to the food stamps program, passed by the Republicans in an almost pure party-line vote (15 Rs voted against it, no D voted for it), will if it becomes law cut off 170,000 of the nearly 1 million veterans who currently receive the benefits every month.

35-Year-Old US Veteran: I Am On Food Stamps Because I Enjoy Not Starving
posted by homunculus at 1:05 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


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