CBS News contacted all fifty states and compiled statistics on veteran suicides, then breathlessly reported: “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.”
That’s very alarming, isn’t it?
However, research has shown that there are marked differences in suicide rates by sex (males commit suicide at a rate four to six times higher than females, but females attempt suicide at three times the rate for males), by age (males over 65 are the highest risk group), and by nationality (the very high Japanese suicide rate is 24 per 100,000 people per year).
Are Americans prone to suicide? Not in the context of other nations.
In 2002, the suicide rate in the United States was 45th highest in the world at 11 per 100,000 people per year. In 2004 the National Institute for Mental Health reported a similar number, 10.9.
When our veteran suicide rate of 19 is compared to the rates of all citizens of both sexes of other countries, it is about the same or lower as Japan (24.0), Belgium (21.1), Finland (20.3), Cuba (18.3), France, Austria, Korea, and Switzerland.
When CBS News did their study, they used the classic method of comparing apples to oranges, and gave birth to a lemon. Although Katie Couric didn’t even pucker when she delivered it, many of us were left with a very sour taste when we investigated and found how bad it was.
As a veteran myself, with over 21 years Air Force service, I knew that veterans are predominantly males; that males, and particularly older males, have much higher suicide rates than females; and that the average age of veterans is higher than the general population because so many were called to service for World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, and even in peacetime before the draft ended in 1973.
Obviously CBS New’s conclusion that there was a “suicide epidemic among veterans” because the veteran suicide rate was 19 compared to a general population rate of 9 was a complete fallacy. CBS compared the rate for a predominantly older, male group, against the younger, female majority general population.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who noticed CBS’s glaring errors. As I Googled more I found this in Aviation Week:
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.
CBS also makes an issue of the fact that suicide rates among younger veterans exceed that of the general population by an even bigger margin - but again, that's what you'd expect, because in that age group, the male-to-female imbalance in suicide rates is greatest, almost six to one.
Suicide is tragedy. What it does not seem to be, among veterans, is an epidemic.
Not content with just reading about others dragging CBS News through the mud, I continued Googling, and found that the suicide rate for active military is only about half the rate for the same age, same sex general population.
That is not the sort of image CBS News was trying to convey.
Could it be that it is better for suicide prevention to be in the military as a young man than to stay a civilian? Since the active military rate of 11 per 100,000 per year is roughly half the rate of their civilian counterparts, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
Is it better in terms of suicide potential to be a male veteran than to be Japanese? Suicide rates indicate it is. In fact, it is just about as bad to be French as to be a veteran, and probably much worse if studies isolated the suicide rate of older French males. Since the rate for all French males is 27.5, or 45 percent higher than our veterans’ rate, I would hazard a guess that the rate for older French males is much higher.
Are 45 nations, including Japan, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, Cuba, Austria, Russia, and many others experiencing epidemics of suicide? If CBS News was calling the shots, you would have to conclude a resounding “Yes!”
Quick! Someone tell CBS News and console Katie Couric! If they thought they had a hot story about a suicide epidemic among veterans, think how hot their story will be when it is about entire nations!
Stop the presses!
Or unplug the cameras!
Or do whatever you do today to get ready to insert really hot news.
And by the way, call for Make Up, because Katie’s crying.