Friday, December 21, 2007

"Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans" by CBS News Doesn't Pass Smell Test

In Liberal Northern California, our local weekly newspaper the Independent Coast Observer provides a steady supply of inane and uninformed letters from local "Bush bashers." They often take an issue from the major news media and run it through their warped viewpoints until a poorly reported item is rendered totally abominable. Such did one of our citizenry accomplish from an atrocious CBS News article about a so-called epidemic of suicide among veterans.

My reply to our newspaper follows:

Keith Jacobsen’s letter “Soldiers and Suicide” mentioned that in “2005 the number suicides (sic) of veterans who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq had reached 120 each week.” That would be 6,240 per year, 18,270 in the past three years, or five times the total killed since the Iraq War began.

Mr. Jacobsen’s numbers didn’t pass the smell test. Where did he get them? In the Age of Google, that’s an easy question. I immediately found a poorly written and researched article by – who else? – CBS Evening News with perky Katie Couric. In their November 13 article, “Suicide Epidemic Among Veterans,” was this quote: “In 2005 … there were at least 6,256 suicides among those who served in the armed forces. That’s 120 each and every week, in just one year.”

Mr. Jacobsen took “(120 suicides per week) among those who served in the armed forces” and replaced it with “veterans who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Mr. Jacobsen missed that the population CBS News reviewed for suicides consisted of all who had ever served in the military, a total living today of about 25 million.

By comparison, today’s total of active and reserve military is about 2.5 million, or less than ten percent of the total who have ever served. Few of today’s veterans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Instead of an “epidemic of veteran suicides,” veterans match the rate for same-age males; the suicide rate among active military (11 per 100,000 per year) is about half of the general population rate; forty nations have higher male suicide rates than our veterans; and the overall veterans’ rate of 19 is the same or lower than the rate for BOTH SEXES in Japan (24.0), Belgium (21.1), Finland (20.3), Cuba (18.3), and France, Austria, Korea, and Switzerland.

Do you still say, Mr. Jacobsen, that these statistics reflect the poor quality of mental health screening among active duty personnel and veterans?

Do you still think there is an “epidemic of suicide,” or do you now realize that you and the American public have once again been misled by sloppy and sensationalist CBS News reporting?

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