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"A CBS News Investigation Uncovers A Suicide Rate for Veterans Twice That of Other Americans" -- Or Does It?

The quote is drawn from this CBS News story, with results that CBS labels "stunning." And the story claims that the stunning results indeed remain robust when one controls for sex. Here's the data on the Methodolgy page:

Results for 2004

Overall Rates
Veterans: 17.5 to 21.8 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 9.4 per 100,000

Male Rates
Veterans: 30.6 to 38.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 18.3 per 100,000

Female Rates
Veterans: 10.0 to 12.5 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 4.8 per 100,000

Results for 2005

Overall Rates
Veterans: 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 8.9 per 100,000

Male Rates
Veterans: 31.5 to 35.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 17.6 per 100,000

Female Rates
Veterans: 11.1 to 12.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 4.5 per 100,000

Yet here's something odd about the data: For the overall rates to correspond to the male and female rates, the veteran pool would have to be 62% to 64% female, and the nonveteran pool would have to be about 66% female. Check it out, for instance, with the lower bounds on the 2005 data: 11.1 x 0.63 (female) + 31.5 x 0.37 (male) = a bit under 18.7 (overall).

Or, if you prefer, consider a veteran pool of 23 million people. You'd need:

  • 14.5 million (23 million x 0.63) women, or 145 hundred-thousands, with 1610 suicides (145 x 11.1) and
  • 8.5 million (23 million x .037) men, or 85 hundred-thousands, with 2680 suicides (85 x 31.5) to get
  • a total of 4290 suicides (a bit under 18.7 per 100,000) for the whole 23 million.

That can't be right. The VA reports that the veteran pool is only 7% female, which means that if the CBS News overall veteran and female veteran numbers are right, then the male veteran numbers would be 19.27 to 21.4 in 2005 and 18.06 to 22.5 in 2004, not far from the male suicide rate of about 17.7 per year (see WISQARS). Of course, we can't tell which of the CBS numbers are right — but it does seem like they can't all be right. Plus of course you can't have a population that's about 51% female but at the same time 62-64% female among veterans and 66% female among nonveterans.

Or am I missing something? Please let me know.

Thanks to Ares (an Aviation Week & Space Technology blog) (linked to InstaPundit) for pointing to this story, though Ares doesn't seem to discuss the specific numbers listed on the CBS Methodology page. Note also that CBS reports, "One age group stood out. Veterans aged 20 through 24, those who have served during the war on terror. They 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 was found to be between 22.9 and 31.9 per 100,000.)" The suicide rate for males age to 20 to 24 is about 20 to 21 per 100,000; what the suicide rate is for male veterans age to 20 to 24 seemingly can't be determined from the CBS numbers, given the apparent flaws I identified above.

NickM (mail) (www):
With population percentages such as those, no man should have trouble getting a date.

Nick
11.14.2007 7:49pm
Zathras (mail):
I have a hunch the average between the 2 was calculated incorrectly:

Besides the comment made by EV, I immediately that the standard deviation is much larger for men than women. This likely means that more women were sampled than men. If they calculated the average based on the sample population, rather than extrapolating each dataset to the known gender breakdown, you will get the average being biased significantly more towards women.
11.14.2007 7:59pm
wooga:
I think I know the answer. CBS conducted their investigation based on data from Surf City.

(Beach Boys: "...two girls for every boy...")
11.14.2007 8:02pm
Eric Anondson (mail):
Do we have suicide rates/numbers for peacetime?
11.14.2007 8:25pm
mobathome:
National suicide rates are available from the web page of Dr. John McIntosh. For 2004, National numbers are rates of 17.7 for men, 4.6 for women, and 11.1 overall. (All rates are per 100,000 population.) This implies that the national population is composed of 49.6% males and 50.4% females.
11.14.2007 8:35pm
mobathome:
According to at least one CNN report of June 2007, the different rate for male veterans vs. non-veterans has been previously published.
11.14.2007 8:51pm
Anonymouseducator (mail) (www):
Are there numbers for non-veteran military?
11.14.2007 8:56pm
Barney (mail):
The media have been killing themselves (no pun intended) to make this story work for years. At the outset of the Iraq war they tried to assert that suicide rates in the military exceeded the national average; which they did, if applied against the nation as a whole. When the numbers were analyzed alongside the appropriate segments of society (consistent age group and gender breakdowns) it became clear that suicide rates were at or below national averages (senior citizens commit suicide more often than is reported, but young people lead the way numbers wise. And young people are heavily overrepresented in the military!).

Mental health professionals (I'll find the cite while this assertion is disputed) have actually found that service members in combat--with a clear and decisive mission to occupy their thoughts, are much less likely to kill themselves than counterparts twiddling their thumbs in a holding pattern (or, sadly, in hospitals).

In any event, the media haven't been able to substantiate their theory that the various wars are destroying our soldiers psychologically, but they keep trying.
11.14.2007 8:57pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Mental health professionals (I'll find the cite while this assertion is disputed) have actually found that service members in combat--with a clear and decisive mission to occupy their thoughts, are much less likely to kill themselves than counterparts twiddling their thumbs in a holding pattern (or, sadly, in hospitals).

The military also under reports suicides (many suicides are written off as accidental discharges). Additionally, soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it.
11.14.2007 9:11pm
Swede:
"The military also under reports suicides (many suicides are written off as accidental discharges). Additionally, soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it."

Link please.

As somebody who has assisted in the investigation of 2 suicide attempts in the Army, I'd really like to see what reports you base your claims on. In particular, I'd be very interested in where you got your information for the last part of your claim.
11.14.2007 9:20pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Civilian life underreports suicides too. Lethal combinations of pills and alcohol are easy to write off as accidents if there's no note.

Nick
11.14.2007 9:21pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
(1) For suicide statistics, broken down any way you like, try WISQARS, linked to from the post.

(2) Is there something I'm missing in my criticism of the CBS News report? If I'm right, then the data on which they're relying might well be badly damaged (unless they're relying on the right data, but just erring in what they say on the Methodology page). But, boy, I'd hate to make more of a fuss if I'm wrong, so if I am wrong, please do let me know.

(3) Mobathome: Thanks for the pointer to the study, which does seem to report a suicide rate among veterans that's twice as high as among nonveterans; I hope to look at it in more detail shortly, though I'm traveling for the rest of the week and might not be able to blog about it until Monday. The study does suggest that perhaps CBS has the right data, but just screwed up its description of its data -- but in any case, I'd love to hear whether my characterization of the CBS report is mistaken.
11.14.2007 9:51pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Civilian life underreports suicides too. Lethal combinations of pills and alcohol are easy to write off as accidents if there's no note.
Or alcohol and firearms. Or automobiles and immovable objects. Or...
11.14.2007 9:54pm
Swede:
"The military also under reports suicides (many suicides are written off as accidental discharges). Additionally, soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it."


This statement is not supported by any known fact and the last portion is made entirely of your Soldier-as-victim fantasy.
11.14.2007 10:31pm
Bama 1L:
Additionally, soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it.

It's been pretty commonplace since WWII to see an infantryman's combat efficiency and psychological state as a sort of parabola. The soldier new to combat has not yet developed survival skills and is apt to be hit. After about a week of fighting, the soldier has caught on and is at maximum efficiency for about a month. But then the physical and psychological stress pile up and depress combat efficiency. The soldier is prone to overreaction and, more dangerous, does not realize he is losing his edge. After about two months in combat, the soldier is emotionally exhausted, which manifests as a growing indifference to life and death. An emotionally exhausted soldier might very well fail to take cover from or even walk right into enemy fire. Wise militaries do not keep anyone in combat this long.

(Note that by "in combat" I mean prolonged and daily combat action and frontline living conditions. Think of infantrymen in Normandy or the Pacific island battles: foxholes, tinned food, daily casualties. American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are not "in combat" by this standard and would last much longer.)

Whether enemy-inflicted death suffered by a soldier in the emotional exhaustion stage should be considered a form of suicide is debatable, to say the least.
11.14.2007 10:41pm
Bama 1L:
Swede, desirous of a citation, may wish to consult the discussion of battle fatigue in U.S. Army Field Manual 8-51.
11.14.2007 10:52pm
Swede:
As a former medic in an Airborne Infantry Company that deployed and saw action in Iraq from Feb 04 to Feb 05, I saw nothing, heard nothing, and read nothing that supports the claim that "soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it". What a load of crap. And consider the source, someone whose opinion on the matter is based on what? Facts? Experience? I'm fairly used to the public's general ignorance on most things military. That ignorance still doesn't give anybody a license to be wrong but act and post as if they were right. Again, an assertion based on the author's fantasy.
11.14.2007 10:55pm
Swede:
I'm familiar with FM 8-51, which, incidentally, hasn't been updated since 1998. Kindly direct me to the part that would back up that unfounded claim.
11.14.2007 11:05pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Since many people look at motivation before looking at the facts, and think that's a fine way of arguing, let's just say that CBS' motivation is to lose the war, one way or another, make Bush look bad, and make the military look bad.
So what do you expect?
Now, I'll stop arguing like a liberal.

Here's a factor not mentioned above, if I read it right. Young women try to commit suicide about four times as often as young men. Either it's a call for help, drama queening writ large, or technical incompetence, they rarely succeed. Young men try less often but generally succeed. But, give the young women some weapons and the knowledge of how to use them.... Not the situation that drives the numbers, but the tools available.

The entire thing needs to be age-normed, as well.

Additionally, veterans, living the civilian life, are now subject to the stresses of civilian life. Which drives a certain percentage of the never-served to suicide. There is no reason to think veterans are proof against those stresses. So they would commit suicide as often as non-veteran civiilans, unless one posits some anti-suicide tendency from military service. But let's not. Let's say, instead, that we would expect the same rate of suicide from vets and non-vet civilians. Okay? Now. Let's assume the vets show a slightly higher suicide rate than the civilians. Just slightly. What happens. The ENTIRE suicide phenomenon among vets is laid at the door of military service. Bogus.
11.14.2007 11:19pm
asdf:
Rathbun adjusted the rates of suicide for age, gender and any potential error in the gathering of the raw data by the states.

I would guess that CBS has just messed up here and reported some numbers corrected for age and some numbers not corrected. Or maybe the model somehow isn't linear. But there's something subtle going on, and I'd be interested to see the calculations.

For an example of why the data has to be adjusted, the paper mobathome cites has a table of age of suicide for veterans v non-veterans, and the veterans were significantly older:
Table 2 says that 40% of veteran suicides were at over 65 years, but only 18% of non-veteran suicides
11.14.2007 11:22pm
Randy R. (mail):
"In any event, the media haven't been able to substantiate their theory that the various wars are destroying our soldiers psychologically, but they keep trying."

Having just seen the last installment of Ken Burn's doc on WWII, the vets themselves talked about the psychological damage of WWII. Why Iraq would be any different, I don't know.

I distinctly recall reading an article in the Washington Post a few years ago quoting several army officers who said that suicide rates don't tell the whole picture. They said that there are some men just give up, and what they do is enter a dangerous situation recklessly, and then there is a high chance of casualty. Perhaps these guys were lying. For what I end, I don't know. They were military guys.

My uncle is a WWII vet, and he certainly concurs with the psychological damage (we've talked about it). And with regards to suicide, he says he sees plenty of vets from the Iraq War at the hospital who clearly need help with depression, shock, etc.

I can't speak to the suicide rates, but there clearly is a problem with a lot of vets -- they have higher rates of divorce upon returning from the war than their age group. they also state that the military has a culture that you don't ask for help, asking for help is considered weak. So I would suspect that when you have that sort of culture, you aren't going to report your head issues to anyone, resulting in a significant lack of accurate stats.
11.15.2007 12:02am
Brian K (mail):
liberals are stupid.
now, i'll stop arguing like a conservative.
11.15.2007 12:35am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Let's not forget "I know you are, but what am I," "liar, liar, pants on fire," and other delightful chestnuts. Richard Aubrey: Generic attacks on liberals as a class aren't going to persuade or enlighten anyone. Brian K: At least Aubrey had some substance alongside his generic attacks. Everyone: Let's try to avoid pointless digs at either side, and focus on substance.
11.15.2007 12:42am
Brian G (mail) (www):
It's all about the narrative, you know.
11.15.2007 12:42am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I agree that the non-veteran/veteran comparison must be divided by age groups. If I recall correctly, a large percentage of suicides are elderly white males who for some reason (terminal illness, death of a spouse) have decided to end their lives. The suicide rate for all veterans would have to include a lot of Korean War and WW II vets in this age group.
11.15.2007 1:00am
Sub Specie AEternitatis (mail):
Sadly, this is not the first time that CBS gets the suicide rates in the military and comparisons to the general population wrong. See WSJ, Best of the Web, "A Few Minutes Are a Few Too Many" (Apr. 13, 2004).

The media make the same type of error with respect to other demographic groups. See WSJ, Best of the Web, "The Ultimate Cop-Out" (Feb. 12, 2007) (police officers); WSJ, Best of the Web, "The Suicide Gap" (July 25, 2003) (black boys and young men).

Funnily, the error is always in the same direction and the blamed causes are always progressive bogeymen.
11.15.2007 4:31am
markm (mail):
Randy: "I can't speak to the suicide rates, but there clearly is a problem with a lot of vets -- they have higher rates of divorce upon returning from the war than their age group."

When a serviceman returns from months overseas and finds his wife sleeping with someone else, I don't think the divorce is due to his psychological problems.
11.15.2007 6:40am
Swede:
"Having just seen the last installment of Ken Burn's doc on WWII, the vets themselves talked about the psychological damage of WWII. Why Iraq would be any different, I don't know."

Let's see, just off the top of my head: instantaneous communication with home via phone and email, better food, better living conditions, better equipment, better training, a professional NCO corp that is second to none, year long deployment, non-continuous battle scenerios, better medical treatment, leave program, tv, movies, xbox, gamecube, 10 billion books, etc etc. You know how long it takes something to get to Iraq from Amazon.com? About 3 days longer than it does to ship it to your home.

You can't walk to a DFAC without having a chaplain or CSC puke asking you if everything is alright and is there anything they can do to help. This is Iraq, I don't have any experience in Afghanistan. This isn't WWII, Korea, Vietnam or the War of 1812. While parallels are always interesting to draw, sometimes they just don't fit.
11.15.2007 6:54am
Randy R. (mail):
I'm sure many a loyal serviceman's wife would find your comments slanderous. Most of the one's I've known have understood what they were getting into and have provided nothing but loving support for their husbands. My cousin, for example.

But when her husband came back from Vietnam, he came back hooked on various drugs, had nightmares, suffered from shell shock, and, like so many wives, found their husband had changed. My grandmother often said that my dad's experience in the war changed him, and that led to his early death. (not by suicide, but by natural causes).

I'm just amazed that everyone here seems to think that a guy 18 or 20 years old can go to war for several years and come back to civilian life all hunky dory, like nothing happened. I think it cheapens their experience. Why all this resistence? Is this part of the whole macho military culture that a real man can take anything? Perhaps some can -- I wouldn't doubt that. But to assume all or most of them can is making a broad and unwarranted assumption.

This is so strange. We now live in a culture where defending servicemen and thinking that they should have access to psychiatric help to avoid suicide, depression and other head issues is considereed some lily-livered liberalism. That even SAYING that they might have problems is considered somehow stupid, liberal, unpatriotic.

this is what it means to be a conservative nowadays? You should be ashamed of yourselves.
11.15.2007 7:02am
Swede:
"I'm just amazed that everyone here seems to think that a guy 18 or 20 years old can go to war for several years and come back to civilian life all hunky dory, like nothing happened. I think it cheapens their experience. Why all this resistence? Is this part of the whole macho military culture that a real man can take anything? Perhaps some can -- I wouldn't doubt that. But to assume all or most of them can is making a broad and unwarranted assumption.

This is so strange. We now live in a culture where defending servicemen and thinking that they should have access to psychiatric help to avoid suicide, depression and other head issues is considereed some lily-livered liberalism. That even SAYING that they might have problems is considered somehow stupid, liberal, unpatriotic.

this is what it means to be a conservative nowadays? You should be ashamed of yourselves"

Where is anybody saying that on this thread? Some jackass says that Soldiers are just giving up and getting themselves killed on purpose. Nothing to back that up. Apparently that's what passes for common knowledge. However, it doesn't pass muster. Why all this resistance to the fact that your scenerio is a complete fantasy? And while we're on the subject, let me offer this observation: where in our society does a group of mostly young males have as much psychological and spiritual support than in the military? And when these same young men utilize that support, does that mean they have a need for it that is greater than civilian men of that same age group or even the general population at large? Or is it that there is nothing comparable? What other organization offers that service to that many people of that same group type? How do you know most people don't need that and they just don't or can't get it?
11.15.2007 7:19am
Ignorance is Bliss:
If you are trying to see what the effect of military service is on suicide rates, controling for age and gender are not enough. You are still comparing apples to oranges.

Since we have gotten rid of the draft military service is voluntary. The people who join are self-selecting, then filtered again by the military's minimum requirements. Thus it seems reasonable to suspect that they do not represent the general public, even adjusted for gender and age.

I suspect that if you look at the personality traits that lead to men having a higher suicide rate than women in general, the people who join the military have those same traits at a higher rate then the population in general.

Does this prove that there is no problem? Of course not. It just shows that you need a much better designed study in order to determine if (and how large) a problem exists.
11.15.2007 7:37am
Swede:
"I'm sure many a loyal serviceman's wife would find your comments slanderous. Most of the one's I've known have understood what they were getting into and have provided nothing but loving support for their husbands. My cousin, for example"

In a company of 144 men, we sent two home because their wives dumped the kids off at grandma's so that they could shack up with their new boyfriends. The other 4 didn't even bother to do that, they just had their boyfriends move in while daddy was off fighting a war. It happens. Divorce often follows. Go figure.
11.15.2007 7:45am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
EV. WRT "arguing like a liberal". I don't, have never, sneered at a fact based on the transmission of said fact by some bete noir of the conservatives.
But, in debating with liberals, there are shoals of things one cannot say without hearing snorts and disgusting glottal noises because "Limbaugh said that". The implication being that a fact becomes suspect based on who happened to mention it.
However, CBS' history in these matters leads one to the prudent view that anything they say should be considered a lie until proven otherwise.
So turning the numbers inside out becomes a reflex, if "CBS said that". Common sense. Has nothing to do with ignoring the problem, but, instead, seeing if there really is one.

I had an e-mail from the wife of a relative when I asked what I could send him and his buddies in Iraq. She reminded me that his unit didn't have a microwave (he was a tank commander in the 2ID), so I would have to take that into account.
Even the grunts in this war have it infinitely better, in a material sense, than in any earlier war.
To the extent that heat, cold, thirst, fatigue, added to psychological problems, there should be less in this war.
In addition, casualties are so few that debates sometimes arise as to whether this is actually more dangerous than peacetime. I am not in a position to say either way, but it seems that if it were not close, there'd be no argument. It would have been absurd in WW II, or Korea, or Viet Nam, to have a memorial service in the unit for a dead soldier. There were too many, not enough time, and the unit was going to be in the field, in contact, for months yet.
My father's division in the ETO was so effective, basically by using night fighting techniques, that when I got to Benning, they opened our extensive block of instruction with a long lessons-learned from his division. Despite being widely known for getting the job done with so few casualties as to be a lesson several wars later, the 104th had a KIA rate about fifteen times that in Iraq.
The downside is the exposure of those deployed several times. From D-Day to VE Day was about eleven months. Some of the units in France and Italy had fought in North Africa, but few line outfits had more than a year in contact. The Korean tour was one year, ditto Viet Nam, although lifers could have had as many as three tours.

None of this is to say that there is no psychological damage caused by soldiering. The question is whether CBS did a hatchet job.
11.15.2007 8:17am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
"many people look at motivation before looking at the facts"

It's not a good idea to accept as "facts" the statements of an entity with a known bias and a history of delivering incorrect (due to both bias and incompetence)information.

The first question I have with regards to a story like this is "Is it worth my time doing the (probably enormous amount of) digging that will be necessary to discover the real truth of the matter, or should I just assume it's garbage?"

Results broken down by sex, but not by age, race, education or class? Ok, the whole thing's worthless.

I don't care enough about this issue to search for and crunch the data myself, so I'll ignore it until a real statistician with no axe to grind studies it.
11.15.2007 8:26am
Ralph Phelan (mail):
"I agree that the non-veteran/veteran comparison must be divided by age groups... The suicide rate for all veterans would have to include a lot of Korean War and WW II vets in this age group."

And by lumping them all together you obscure any changes, positive or negative, that have occurred in how the military helps its personnell deal with psychological stress.

Shouldn't we also separate combat veterans (however defined) from folks who did mostly civilian-type jobs in mostly-safe environments?
11.15.2007 8:30am
Aultimer:

"I'm sure many a loyal serviceman's wife would find your comments slanderous. "

In a company of 144 men, we sent two home because their wives dumped the kids off at grandma's so that they could shack up with their new boyfriends. The other 4 didn't even bother to do that, they just had their boyfriends move in while daddy was off fighting a war. It happens. Divorce often follows. Go figure.


Swede - it's a little ironic that you'd post this in a thread about bad statistical practices.

Six relationships (marriages, for the sake of argument) failed over some period of time (you didn't specify), out of 144. Some number is to be expected, whether you compare to all relationships, relationships where one partner is away for a long period, or whatver you care to control with. Before we start casting military spouses as disloyal, how about we total up the number out of 144 who started in relationships, then factor in the length of time you're measuring. The general DIVORCE rate for military-aged people is 5 or 6 per thousand. Are all 6 in your sample actually married? The rate of births outside marriage is about 40%. All in all, your company might have been right in line with expectations, not that I'd wish that on anyone.
11.15.2007 9:38am
Closet Libertarian (www):
For a comparison, "self inflicted" deaths in the us military were 9.31 per 100,000 FTE in 2006. According to data in this CRS report (tables 4 and 5): http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/RL32492.pdf

That looks lower than any of the veteran categories above.
11.15.2007 9:41am
AnonLawStudent:
Swede @7:19AM,

My experience on the threads here is that there are more than a few commenters who just "know" how the military and warfare work. They then argue based on this "knowledge" or "common sense," despite failing to perceive elementary realties that would be apparent even to an ensign or 2LT two weeks out of OCS. At least one of the commenters you are criticizing is a repeat offender in that regard. Don't let it get under your skin.
11.15.2007 9:45am
Bama 1L:
Swede--

Severe battle fatigue cases make mistakes and get themselves killed in combat. I don't know how else to interpret chapter 1 of FM 8-51 (yes, the 1998 version). Look at the graphic on battle fatigue. What are the guys down at the bottom of chart doing? Either they are lying unresponsive in the pup tents or they are wandering into no man's land. The manual expresses a lot of concern about psychological stress causing casualties. This is how some of those casualties occur. Any sampling of WWII memoirs will contain a few such incidents.

For the record, I do not think that such a death ought to be considered a suicide. But it probably ought to be regarded as an avoidable psychological casualty. If those men had been given a chance to heal, they may well not have died.

My maternal grandfather was a medic in the 29th ID in WWII, with the division since mobilization. They pulled him out of combat after about eight months. He ended up missing being with his buddies on VE Day, but it was a whole lot better than what Army statistics showed happened to guys who were at the front that long.

That you did not see these during your service shows how good a job the army, yourself included, is doing preventing severe cases of battle fatigue.

It seems to me that the main data point for discussions of this topic continues to be WWII. As you and Richard Aubry point out, the differences between WWII and today are huge. When they do get around to updating FM 8-51, they really must include these factors. But I imagine this will not be done until after the experience of Iraq, in particular, can be digested and turned into useful lessons.

If you want to read a really good book on this topic, look for
Grossman, On Killing.
11.15.2007 9:51am
Temp Guest (mail):
I'm just repeating what others have posted earlier but, as a trained demographer, I'd argue that comparing suicide rates between two groups without controlling for at least age and sex demonstrates either ignorance and stupidity or a hidden agenda. I'd also be leery of this particular study unless it also included controls for race-ethnicity and some measure(s) of SES, which in US society are strongly determinative of suicide rates in subpopulations.

Combat is horrifyingly stressful and our fellow citizens who are subjected to it deserve our special concern and sympathy but I doubt that the left in this country, including most of the "news" staff at CBS, is motivated by any real concern or sympathy for our troops, whom it is perfectly clear most on the left actually despise.
11.15.2007 9:55am
John Thacker (mail):
I wouldn't be surprised if the suicide rate were higher for veterans' it is a stressful thing after all. This study is pretty bad, though. It's certainly possible that the overall veterans number should be even higher than what they reported, if the numbers are generally correct for men and women veterans individually; the overall data should obviously be based on the known sex ratio of veterans. (Of course, comparing the overall numbers for populations of different sex ratios is near-useless anyway.) However, I worry because their non-veteran numbers disagree so sharply with the known numbers for the overall population.

Even controlling for age and sex is problematic because the sample is so amazingly non-representative. If I got a sample that was ~65% female out of a population that was 7% female, I would worry about other selection biases.
11.15.2007 10:10am
Houston Lawyer:
The pastor at my church was a military chaplain in the Navy during the 80s. He stated that a large part of his mission was preventing suicides. He recalled one destroyer where he had a hand in having 50 men removed from active duty due to an unnecessarily high risk of suicide if they remained in their positions. At no point in any of his service was his group involved in combat.

The point being that the military watches out for its personnel the best it can and that they have people trained to look for this. In the civilian population, indicators of suicide are more likely to be overlooked.
11.15.2007 10:11am
Swede:
Concerning the example in my company, I'd say a little less than half the men were married. In the 6 cases that I know about, all 6 men were married. The fact that it happened even once was pretty shocking to me. And I've know most of those guys for around 9 years. If somebody had told me, before we deployed, that something like that was going to happen, I doubt I would have believed it.

And I don't want anybody to take away from my posts that I'm critical of my fellow Americans because they lack an insiders knowledge of the military. I'm not a lawyer and don't have an insider's knowledge of that profession. That doesn't stop me from having an opinion about the law and how it works. But if I post something about the law that isn't true or is mistaken, I'm pretty sure it would be brought to my attention on this website. And that seems proper.

Concerning battle fatigue and the war in Iraq, I would argue that, with the notable exceptions of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi, long, sustained bouts of combat are not the rule. Rather, brief, very violent and intense scenerios are the norm. And those instances can be seperated by large gaps of time. I'm the last person who would suggest that different people deal with these experiences the same and that some have problems coming to terms with the violence that has been visited on them and that they have visited on others. But some of the claims made in this thread are simply not supported by facts.
11.15.2007 10:22am
The Drill SGT:
Swede,

I'm coming to this late, but since nobody else has bothered to say it:

Thanks for your service to our country!

A Vietnam Viet
101st Airborne
11.15.2007 10:29am
Swede:
Hey thanks.

That's the nicest thing a Drill Sergeant has ever said to me.

I think the next nicest thing a Drill Sergeant said to me was "Why don't you STFU and just hold the tail, let me #$&! this cat. Is it OK with you if I'm in charge of the Army today? Great. Thanks."
11.15.2007 10:36am
The Drill SGT:
It was a job :)

you know that. You get an assignment and you do the best you can.

Drill Sergeants have the mission of teaching trainees to respond to certain external stimuli (e.g. orders) without question and teaching some basic skills along the way.

So when some yells Duck!! or Grenade!! the dumb f@@k doesn't stand there and ask questions.
11.15.2007 10:44am
alkali (mail):
Further to asdf, I think the reason for the apparent inconsistency is that the rates shown are adjusted for age and perhaps other demographic characteristics. (I don't think that CBS has "messed up" if they did that, for reasons explained below, although I certainly can't vouch for their figures.)

By way of example, suppose vets and non-vets can each be divided into two demographic categories, A and B (which could be age or race or education or any other thing you want). 50% of non-vets are A but only 25% of vets are A. You measure some statistic X among vets and non-vets and obtain these results:

Vets, A: 20
Vets, B: 100
Non-vets, A: 10
Non-vets, B: 50

(I.e., vet rate is 2x non-vet rate)

However, if you looked at vets and non-vets as a group without adjusting for the A/B issue, you would get this result:

Vets: 80
Nonvets: 30

(I.e., vet rate is 2.7x non-vet rate)

In this particular case, I would guess that an age control might matter a lot: very few pre-teen children commit suicide, and none of them are vets, and that would make the non-vet rate look artificially low if you didn't control for that.
11.15.2007 10:51am
rarango (mail):
Some thoughts (speaking as both an epidemiologist and veteran): The data, in my opinion, are inconclusive. The military maintains suicide rates on soldiers who are actively serving (regular or reserves). It does not follow those soldiers once they leave the service--the VA does that. The qualifier "Veteran" is far too vague and needs much more dissagregation to infer any sort of correlation to suicide. Suicide is an ICD cause of death in two categories: by firearms, and all other causes. The CDC maintains data on these, and in general, men are much more likely to commit suicide than are women.

The basic flaw in the report, as nearly as I can see, is using the term "veterans" to imply causality. There will be a forthcoming study on depressed veterans which suggests that depressed veterans are more likely to commit suicide than the population as a whole disaagregated by age group and gender, but even that study apparently compares depressed veterans against the population as a whole and not the subpopulation of depressed people. Link:

As a veteran, JF Thomas' assertion above is just that and without basis. Unless, of course, Mr Thomas can provide some authoratative link to support it. Frankly, that assertion does not square with my experience in combat.
11.15.2007 11:07am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
As usual you jump all over me without bothering to note the context of my comment. The assertion was made (inviting debate btw) that soldiers in combat (not in any particular war but in war in general) are less likely to kill themselves than the general public.

The military is writing off self-inflicted deaths in garrison by personal firearm (when the soldier is alone) as accidental with cursory investigations. This is a fact.

As for my second point, I did not mean to imply that such incidents were common in our current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they are certainly a common feature of prolonged exposure to combat and were especially prevalent in World War I.

In addition, casualties are so few that debates sometimes arise as to whether this is actually more dangerous than peacetime

Deaths are few, casualties are not.
11.15.2007 11:08am
rarango (mail):
Sorry: Link here
11.15.2007 11:09am
rarango (mail):
JF Thomas: Correction: this is NOT a fact: "The military is writing off self-inflicted deaths in garrison by personal firearm (when the soldier is alone) as accidental with cursory investigations. This is a fact." this is an assertion. Please provide evidence. And by "personal firearm" what do you mean? The soldiers issued weapon? Unless things have changed dramatically in the past several years, soldiers are not permitted to maintain personal (privately owned) weapons in the barracks.
11.15.2007 11:13am
Smallholder (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas says:


The military also under reports suicides (many suicides are written off as accidental discharges). Additionally, soldiers , especially in combat, often just give up and do something stupid and get themselves killed--maybe not suicide but the functional equivalent of it.


I'd like to see a link for this assertion.

FWIW, when I was an officer (lo so many years ago - and in peacetime), an accident reflected very poorly on the officer and the NCOs. The assumption was that if you had provided better training and/or supervision of private Snuffy, the accident would not have happened. As a specific example, when I wsa a lane trainer at the National Training Center, I was appalled to find some maintenance reservists catching a cat-nap under a tank. Idiots. I lit their officer up even though he was physically no where close to his idiots. It strikes me that the bias of military reporting would be toward blaming the dead guy's will rather than an accident. It is harder to get gigged when private Snuffy took himself out purposefully than if you weren't supervising him. I would have much rather reported that malcontent Snuffy offed himself than to tell my CO that my men weren't clearing their weapons before they started cleaning said weapons.

My experience is out of date. Is officer accountability judged different in 2007?

Or is, perhaps, Mr. Thomas, asserting something simply because it makes the statistics worse? If that is the case, I'd argue that it is perfectly reasonable to be against the war and argue against it with honest facts. I suspect that the anti-war crowd would get more traction if they stuck to reality - false statements are too easy to pick apart and tend to discredit the associated good arguments.
11.15.2007 11:13am
MDJD2B (mail):

Civilian life underreports suicides too. Lethal combinations of pills and alcohol are easy to write off as accidents if there's no note


Note that there are good legal reasons to underreport suicide. Calling a death accidental rather than suicide may, for example, allow survivors to collect on life insurance with a suicide exclusion.

Going outside the legal realm, some religions deny religious burial or allot subordinate burial status to suicides. This is distressing to the families.

So treating physicians and medical examiners will not charaterize a death as a suicide unless the evidence is clear.

I call to mind a coleague who pulled into his garage shortly before midnight on the eve of his 40th birthday and died of carbon monoxide poisoning when he failed to shut the engine off and remained in his car. Many of his acquaintences thought he might have killed himself, but he left no note, and it is plausible that he was tired after an 18 hour day and fell asleep in his vehicle. The ME went with the latter explanation and ruled his death an accident.
11.15.2007 11:16am
Swede:
"The military is writing off self-inflicted deaths in garrison by personal firearm (when the soldier is alone) as accidental with cursory investigations. This is a fact"

Whose supporting link will, no doubt, be provided any time now.
11.15.2007 11:31am
Swede:
Your common knowledge is, unfortunately, very common.

It's just not particularly knowledgable.
11.15.2007 11:35am
rarango (mail):
Correction to my previous post about the University of Michigan, VA study--the press release was a bit vague--fortunately, the NYT reviewed the study, and in fact, the study does compare suicide among depressed vets against suicide among depressed population. No significant difference.
11.15.2007 11:36am
rarango (mail):
By the way--Am I the only person having trouble determining precisely how CBS or their consultant managed to take population figures as a whole (readily available CDC data) and integrate the numbers of veterans by age group (which data the VA would have) into the general population? The VA, to my knowledge, does not have commplete data on all veterans, and does not maintain cause of death data on veterans unless they are specifically in the VA system.
11.15.2007 11:42am
Bart (mail):
Consider the source. This is the same news organization which knowingly publishes forged documents for partisan political reasons.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics.

If you want a great current example of the media twisting stats for partisan political reasons, check out nearly any report by AP concerning Iraq casualties since the Surge began.
11.15.2007 11:58am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Do civilian figures underreport suicide by firearm?
How many people get shot "cleaning" their weapons? In the absence of a note, and if the barrel wasn't clearly in the mouth, it would be easy enough to believe, or rationalize an accident.

In a different situation, I'd be interested in the mortality stats for parents of dead soldiers. In my limited experience, heart issues showed up pretty early. Three of six parents in families I kept up with, at an age of early fifties. Two didn't make life expectancy and one barely did.
11.15.2007 12:07pm
Dan Weber (www):
The VA, to my knowledge, does not have commplete data on all veterans, and does not maintain cause of death data on veterans unless they are specifically in the VA system.

It was on the tape drive they lost. CBS found it and now has all the data they could ever want!

*rimshot*
11.15.2007 12:11pm
RHD72 (mail):
Perhaps it will come as no great surprise but le Monde decided to spin this story, too. I guess they didn't get Sarko's memo. They report, based on the CBS story, an "epidemic of suicides" among American veterans, with "120 deaths per week;" some "6,256 persons who served in the Army killed themselves in 2005, for an average of 17 per day."

Here's their spin on the CBS story: "Une véritable 'épidémie de suicides' sévit chez les anciens militaires américains, avec 120 morts par semaine, révèle une enquête de la chaîne de télévision américaine CBS. Au moins 6 256 personnes ayant servi dans l'armée ont mis fin à leurs jours en 2005 – soit une moyenne de 17 par jour –, rapporte la chaîne dans son enquête diffusée mercredi soir."
11.15.2007 12:13pm
DG:
Who the heck is allowed to have a personal firearm in their barracks? Thats a major offense. Why? Because people will screw around and get shot. JF Thomas, what's your military experience to back up this observation?
11.15.2007 12:14pm
Aultimer:

In the 6 cases that I know about, all 6 men were married. The fact that it happened even once was pretty shocking to me. And I've know most of those guys for around 9 years.

So, with a divorce rate of 5 per 1,000 (per year) you'd expect about 1 divorce in any group of 144 in a year (hopefully your deployment was about that long), and over the 9 years you knew them, you'd expect about 6 divorces in a group that size. My guess is these are younger couples, who have higher rates, and that the peroid of a spouse's deployment is a particularly convenient time to exit a marriage, so the compression in time might be predictable. Obviously this isn't scientific (and it's obviously cruel of the spouses), but I don't think your experience proves a big long-term variation from the comparable non-mil population.
11.15.2007 12:15pm
JOe:
I recall reading a similar story three to four years ago which was debunked with the adjustments for age, etc. Given CBS failure to control/adjust for population subgroups, ie age male/female, etc, it would appear the an agenda played a bigger role in the reporting. Similarly, the recent reports that veterans make up 25% of the homeless population appear to lack credibility. (read "stolen Valor " a book on viet nam vets) .
11.15.2007 12:22pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
DG.
J.F. is thinking the troops have both ammo and their issued weapons in the barracks.
Possible, I suppose, if you pocket a couple of rounds while shooting, and take the weapon back to the barracks to clean it before turning it in to the arms room.
Kind of tough to off yourself that way, though. The population of the barracks is pretty dense and you'd probably be sitting around a bay or room with several others, all cleaning weapons. That would last about fifteen minutes, then it's off to the arms room, thence to chow.
The other guys in the area couldn't be fooled.
It might be possible in combat zones to have ammo and weapons in the same place. Probably a good idea.
11.15.2007 12:29pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
JF Thomas, what's your military experience to back up this observation?

I have a very close relative who worked in mortuary affairs in Kuwait (where every dead soldier and civilian from Iraq and Afghanistan passes on the way back to the States). During this person's 7 month tour in Kuwait (this was back in 2004), there were several incidents of "accidental discharge" of personal weapons that resulted in death. In one particular instance related to me, the incident occurred in a bathroom stall but was still determined to be an "accident".

As for documentary evidence of the Army's concern about suicide rates in Iraq try this.

Pretending that there is not a problem or dismissing it as the fantasy of weak-kneed pansies like me is what creates the problem in the first place.
11.15.2007 12:32pm
rarango (mail):
What JOe said: A (the) fundamental epi principle is to compare like numerators and denominators: eg, men, 20-24 veterans with men, 20-24 non-veterans. And even that should be sub-divided into veterans combat and veterans non-combat if the operating assumption is that somehow combat is more stressful than, say, peacetime service in the continental US.
11.15.2007 12:35pm
Swede:
"but I don't think your experience proves a big long-term variation from the comparable non-mil population"

My intent wasn't to compare any statistic from that company to any other. My intent was to show that those kinds of things happen to Soldiers who deploy, and how little I understood about that.
11.15.2007 12:36pm
alkali (mail):
JOe writes:

Given CBS failure to control/adjust for population subgroups, ie age male/female, etc, it would appear the an agenda played a bigger role in the reporting.

The Methodology page EV links to in his post states: "We asked the acting head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia, Steve Rathbun, to calculate the rate of suicide for 2004 to 2005. Rathbun adjusted the rates of suicide for age, gender and any potential error in the gathering of the raw data by the states."
11.15.2007 12:38pm
Swede:
"Pretending that there is not a problem or dismissing it as the fantasy of weak-kneed pansies like me is what creates the problem in the first place"

Is setting yourself up as some kind of victim here the way you get through your day?

Suicide is a problem. Nobody is saying that it isn't so I'm not sure where you're coming from. You, on the other hand, have made some pretty big claims that you have in no way supported with facts. When called out on this, you create this unseen scenerio where people are saying things they're not really saying and doing things they're not really doing.

Which, in truth, DOES make you look like a weak-kneed pansy.
11.15.2007 12:44pm
rarango (mail):
Alkali: thats the problem--first; there is no need to adjust the rates in the overall population from CDC data as those are already disaggregated--or can be disaggregated by age and gender. I am assuming that Rathburn had to adjust the rates in the overall veterans population figures as those are not disaggregated. And Prof Volokh has already pointed to the problem: when you "bootstrap" the results to attempt to recreate the raw numbers, you get conflicting data: for example: figures that are not proportionate to the actual ratio of male to female veterans.
11.15.2007 12:50pm
Swede:
"I have a very close relative who worked in mortuary affairs in Kuwait (where every dead soldier and civilian from Iraq and Afghanistan passes on the way back to the States). During this person's 7 month tour in Kuwait (this was back in 2004), there were several incidents of "accidental discharge" of personal weapons that resulted in death. In one particular instance related to me, the incident occurred in a bathroom stall but was still determined to be an "accident".

Nobody, with the exception of the Chaplain, walks anywhere in Iraq without their weapon. DFAC, PX, church, gym, and latrine. Accidental discharges happen. A lot. You may or may not like that but your close relative in Kuwait has no more information on how that person died than the investigator had. So, in short, armed with no facts, you've decided that some kind of conspiracy is involved here. Well, good for you. You've proved nothing. Again.
11.15.2007 12:55pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
I'm not sure where you're coming from.

Oh really. I have basically been called a liar. That I know nothing about the military or mental health.

You'll note that not one commenter questioned Barney's veracity after he asserted that "[m]ental health professionals (I'll find the cite while this assertion is disputed) have actually found that service members in combat--with a clear and decisive mission to occupy their thoughts, are much less likely to kill themselves than counterparts twiddling their thumbs in a holding pattern (or, sadly, in hospitals)." He never did find the cite.

I am not a victim here. I am used to all the abuse heaped on me. I voluntarily submit myself to your slings and arrows, and then you have the balls to accuse me of ad hominum attacks when I throw out a mild insult or two.

Oh and btw, I think you will find that the rules on access to personal firearms are a whole lot different in Iraq than they are at, say, Fort Riley.
11.15.2007 12:56pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Nobody, with the exception of the Chaplain, walks anywhere in Iraq without their weapon. DFAC, PX, church, gym, and latrine.

Gee, and you all were just hammering me on my incredible ignorance because I didn't know that as soon as soldiers set foot on base they had to throw their ammunition in the amnesty can and turn their weapons into the arms room.
11.15.2007 1:00pm
Swede:
"I am not a victim here. I am used to all the abuse heaped on me. I voluntarily submit myself to your slings and arrows, and then you have the balls to accuse me of ad hominum attacks when I throw out a mild insult or two"

He says, playing the victim.
11.15.2007 1:04pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Accidental discharges happen.

I really hope that members of the best trained fighting force in the world are not in the habit of resting the business end of an M-16 under their chin when they sit on the toilet.
11.15.2007 1:04pm
FoolsMate:

Here's a factor not mentioned above, if I read it right. Young women try to commit suicide about four times as often as young men. Either it's a call for help, drama queening writ large, or technical incompetence, they rarely succeed. Young men try less often but generally succeed. But, give the young women some weapons and the knowledge of how to use them.... Not the situation that drives the numbers, but the tools available.


Just as an aside, the different "success" rates of male/female suicide attempts is better explained by the differences in the methods they choose. Women tend to attempt suicide by slitting wrists, taking pills, etc. while men tend to choose more violent means such as by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, intentional car accidents etc. I'm not an expert on teen suicide but I had a friend that attempted it in high school, so learned something about it then, and this aspect I recall clearly. The lower success rate of women suicides is almost certainly I personally would expect but do not know for sure due to increased probability of intervention (or opportunity to back out mid-stream?).
11.15.2007 1:06pm
Swede:
"I really hope that members of the best trained fighting force in the world are not in the habit of resting the business end of an M-16 under their chin when they sit on the toilet"

Yeah, I know. You'd also hope they wouldn't drink and drive or get VD after all of that training, either.
11.15.2007 1:09pm
MDJD2B (mail):

During this person's 7 month tour in Kuwait (this was back in 2004), there were several incidents of "accidental discharge" of personal weapons that resulted in death. In one particular instance related to me, the incident occurred in a bathroom stall but was still determined to be an "accident".


But as I said above,

1/ The same phenomeon of trying to construe death as accidental occurs in civilian life, and

2. The reason for this is not nefarious (and I'm not saying you said it was)

For very good legal and social reasons, deaths that are not unmistakenly suicide,m and even some that ours, are called accidental so beneficiaries can collect life insurance payouts, decedents can be buried in holy ground, and so forth.
11.15.2007 1:30pm
MDJD2B (mail):

Just as an aside, the different "success" rates of male/female suicide attempts is better explained by the differences in the methods they choose. Women tend to attempt suicide by slitting wrists, taking pills, etc. while men tend to choose more violent means such as by self-inflicted gunshot wounds, intentional car accidents etc.


An alternative explanation is that peo9ple making suicidal gesture use methods that don't work, while those who are more seriously interested at taking their lives use more efficacious methods. There is nothing to prevent men from slitting their wrists, or women from jumping in front of speeding trains.
11.15.2007 1:36pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I'm not a Catholic, but I've heard that, decades ago, the American hierarchy of the RCs decided to construe suicide as evidence of mental illness and hence allow burial in consecrated ground and other perqs associated with death not including offing oneself.

Life insurance has a suicide exclusion only in the first two years. Accidental death has a permanent suicide exclusion. Investigators are not often in a position to investigate the insurance portfolio of the decedent prior to issuing their verdict.
11.15.2007 1:41pm
alkali (mail):
rarango: I don't understand the import of your 12:50pm comment.

1) EV asked why the stated rates for male and female vets don't "add up" to the total rate, given reasonable assumptions about the male/female proportion among vets.

2) I suggested, based on the comment on the Methodology page linked by EV, that the stated rates were statistically adjusted to account for age and perhaps other demographic differences between the vet and non-vet populations, and that would explain the discrepancy.

Your comment seems to indicate that EV already took account of the statistical adjustment in his calculation. I don't see that.
11.15.2007 1:47pm
rarango (mail):
Alkali: after rereading the CBS methodology page, and EVs question, I see your point.

I will have to remain confused about how the the veterans population was adjusted. I guess one major point of mine would be that it is imperative that whoever presents data need to make their methodology crystal clear--absent that, there is no basis for evaluating it.

JF Thomas: you may be right about the underreporting by military authorities for suicides--You asserted this as a fact, and I (and perhaps the rest of the skeptics on this thread) still wait anxiously for the link you asserted as fact. Please note: no ad hominems there; not challenging your honesty, experience nor integrity. You asserted something as a fact and as yet to provide one scintilla of evidence for what is a serious charge.
11.15.2007 2:46pm
Dan Weber (www):
I suspect that there the suicide rate among both the general population and military personnel are underreported.

Do we have reason to believe that the underreporting rates are significantly different between the groups?
11.15.2007 3:13pm
alkali (mail):
If you compared the suicide rate among vets to that of the general population without adjustment you would certainly expect the rate to be substantially higher for vets, simply because vets include many more men (who commit suicide at higher rates than women) and no preteens (who rarely commit suicide). The larger number, by itself, wouldn't tell you anything about whether vets face relatively high or low suicide risks. It would simply be an artifact of the demographics of veterans.

My guess as to what was done -- and this is strictly a guess -- is that the suicide rates for veterans among the various demographic subgroups were re-weighted in accordance with the proportion represented in the general population by those subgroups. For the reasons stated above, I expect that that re-weighting would tend to adjust the reported rate for veterans downward.

I agree that it would be informative to know more about what was done by CBS's consultant. My point here was to try to explain the apparent discrepancy reported by EV.
11.15.2007 3:23pm
Smallholder (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas wrote:


Accidental discharges happen.

I really hope that members of the best trained fighting force in the world are not in the habit of resting the business end of an M-16 under their chin when they sit on the toilet.


I actually have experience with that. I hopped on to the back of a transport after weapons qualification and some of the lads were using their weapons as chin rest. Sometimes 18 year olds don't think. However, other than the danger of me chewing them a new one (or, more acurately, having a word with their squad leaders who chewed them new ones), they weren't in much danger; the army is maniacal about clearing weapons and the squad leaders (as they protested) had checked to make sure there were no rounds.

That said, your further discussion of accidental discharges makes a bit of sense. As I understand you, you are claiming that the many events described as "accidental discharges" were actual suicides. However, I would think suicides are pretty obvious and the chain of command has an incentive to make sure it was suicide rather than improper training and/or supervision.

I suspect the accidental discharges are not of the "I was cleaning my weapon and it went off" type but the "we were running toward the firefight with loaded and off-safety rifles and private Snuffy tripped, shooting Private Jones in the leg. Private Jones subsequently bled to death. It wasn't friendly fire becayse Jones wasn't killed in the firefight. He was accidentally killed by a klutzy move. (I actually did see a case with MARS gear in which one guy tripped and discharged the blank too close to his neighbor, leading to a minor injury. If we had been training with real rounds, it would have been fatal.

Dead is dead and one ought to feel badly for the family, but to say that your exemplar guy who was sitting on the John and was shot by some nimrod tripping on his way to the latrine are two entirely different animals.
11.15.2007 3:31pm
rarango (mail):
Alkali--thanks for the clarification, and I fear it was my misreading of what you wrote rather than your explanation, which on rereading, was there along!
11.15.2007 4:00pm
Arkady:
The CBS methodology page says:


We asked the acting head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia, Steve Rathbun, to calculate the rate of suicide for 2004 to 2005. Rathbun adjusted the rates of suicide for age, gender and any potential error in the gathering of the raw data by the states. The results reflect that potential margin of error by showing a range in the rates of suicide among veterans.


Here's Stephen Rathbun's CV (from http://www.uga.edu/publichealth/dept/rathbun.htm):


Stephen L. Rathbun

Ph.D., 1990, Statistics, Iowa State University
Associate Professor of Biostatistics

Research Interests
Point process models for event history data
Spatial epidemiology
Spatial statistics
Environmental statistics

Representative Publications

Lin, H., and Rathbun, S.L. 2003. Hierarchical frameworks for multiscale bridging in hydropedology. In Y. Pachepsky, D. Radcliffe and H.M. Selim (eds.). Scaling Methods in Soil Physics, pp. 347-371. CRC Press, Baton Rouge, FL.

Singleton, D.R., Furlong, M.A., Rathbun, S., and Whitman, W.B. 2001. Quantitative comparisons of 16S rDNA sequence libraries from environmental samples. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 67, 4374-4376.

Calvert, C.A., Jacobs, G.J. Smith, D.D., Rathbun, S.L., and Pickus, C.W. 2000. Association between results of ambulatory electrocardiography and development of cardiomyopathy during long-term follow-up of Doberman Pinschers. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 216, 34-39.

Rathbun, S.L. 1998. Spatial modeling in irregularly shaped regions: kriging estuaries. Environmetrics 9, 109-129.

Rathbun, S.L. 1996. Estimation of Poisson intensity using partially observed concomitant variables. Biometrics 52, 226-242.

Rathbun, S.L. 1996. Asymptotic properties of the maximum likelihood estimator for spatio-temporal point processes. Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference 51, 55-74.


Perhaps EV could contact Prof. Rathbun and get his take on this thread, and then post the professor's response.
11.15.2007 4:15pm
blackwing1 (mail):
Check out the link which "J.F. Thomas" provided...it's an Al-Reuters story about suicide (apparently this passes for "documentary evidence".

But what's really funny is a line embedded halfway down the story:

"...the suicide rate among soldiers was lower than the average among civilians of the same age and gender."

Doesn't that sort of contradict what he was attempting to document? Not to mention the fact that the actual NUMBERS of suicides are so low as to probably not be statistically significant:

"Twenty-two U.S. soldiers in Iraq took their own lives in 2005, a rate of 19.9 per 100,000 soldiers. In 2004, the rate was 10.5 per 100,000 and in 2003, the year of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the figure was 18.8 per 100,000."

And what was the headline? "US soldiers' suicide rate in Iraq doubles in 2005". They could have as easily said, "US soldiers' suicide rate in 2005 almost identical to that of 2003".

No bias there.
11.15.2007 4:19pm
Smokey:
DG:
JF Thomas, what's your military experience to back up this observation?
I hope JFT doesn't mind if I provide the answer for him that he's so reluctant to provide himself: J.F. Thomas has zero military experience.

But hey, JFT has actually spoken to someone who was in the military!

That counts as 'experience'... right?
11.15.2007 4:24pm
rarango (mail):
blackwing: apparently you dont get it :) CBS is talking "veterans" and not serving soldiers--it apparently takes a full tour including, presumably, combat experience, to lead to suicide. Of course, the longer and older a man is the more likely he is to commite suicide veterans status notwithsstanding. Look at CDC mortality data for intentional deaths by age cohort for verification.

Serving soldiers, on whom there is excellent data, JF Thomas' assertions notwithstanding, generally commit suicide at smaller rate than their civilian age/gender cohort. Why? I suspect that screening standards to get into the volunteer army, at least until most recently, have been much more rigorous and it's easier to weed out potential psychological problems that might ultimately result in suicide early in the enlistment and training process. What remains largely unexamined, and for which data is not readily available, is the post service experience of these veterans. My basic point remains: there is no data detailed enough to do an appropriate analysis that CBS claims to have done.
11.15.2007 4:32pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Arkady -- let CBS show us the components of the statistics. I've been suspicious of aggregated statistics ever since I learned that America's "Annual Gun Deaths" included suicides, which made up half the total.
11.15.2007 4:33pm
Arkady:
The CBS page says:


The Data
Over the course of five months, CBS News contacted vital statistics offices in all 50 states asking them to provide all of their suicide data from 1995 to 2005. The vital statistics offices have access to suicide data from death certificates.

Forty-five states provided us with raw suicide numbers. Of those, 40 states provided us “cross classified” resident suicide data for the years 2004 and 2005, which we used to statistically calculate rates of suicide for the entire country. (“Cross-classified” is the type of format necessary to run adjusted rates of suicide.)


Prof. Rathbun should be able to answer any questions about the data, I would think. In any event, since his work has been critized in this forum, he should be given a chance to respond, no?
11.15.2007 4:46pm
Ralph Phelan (mail):
I suspect that there the suicide rate among both the general population and military personnel are underreported.

Do we have reason to believe that the underreporting rates are significantly different between the groups?


Do we have reason to believe they're the same? If not, the difference in underreporting might be the dominant factor in the difference between measured suicide rates, and you'd be learning nothing about any differences in real suicide rates.
11.15.2007 4:46pm
rarango (mail):
Arkady--while I agree that Professor Rathbun could help up in understanding the process he used, and should be given the opportunity to comment, why in the world did CBS go to the individual states to get incomplete data (45 out of 50), when they could have gone to CDC and gotten precisely the same data for all 50 states. They sure did it the hard way--I do hope Professor R pointed that out to them.
11.15.2007 4:56pm
LM (mail):
Bart:

Consider the source. This is the same news organization which knowingly publishes forged documents for partisan political reasons. (emphasis added)

Unbiased links please.
11.15.2007 4:59pm
LM (mail):
From Prof. Rathbun's CV:

Calvert, C.A., Jacobs, G.J. Smith, D.D., Rathbun, S.L., and Pickus, C.W. 2000. Association between results of ambulatory electrocardiography and development of cardiomyopathy during long-term follow-up of Doberman Pinschers. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 216, 34-39.

The Doberman Pinscher is a European dog, no?

Next witness.
11.15.2007 5:04pm
rarango (mail):
LM: I am quite willing to accept Prof R's credentials. Statistical techniques are not species dependent (except that homo sapiens appears to have an edge in employing them). It is not uncommon in both medical and vet studies to employ a biostatistician on the writing team to analyze the data--A quick check of JAMA, NE Journal, etc will show that articles accepted for publication usually have a biostatistician to run the numbers developed in the study.
11.15.2007 5:14pm
LM (mail):
rarango: Thanks, but I was being ironic. And apparently not very well.
11.15.2007 5:32pm
bittern (mail):
I like Ignorance is Bliss' theory, just for interest' sake.

Since we have gotten rid of the draft military service is voluntary. The people who join are self-selecting, then filtered again by the military's minimum requirements. Thus it seems reasonable to suspect that they do not represent the general public, even adjusted for gender and age.

I suspect that if you look at the personality traits that lead to men having a higher suicide rate than women in general, the people who join the military have those same traits at a higher rate then the population in general.

Corollaries include "Only real he-men kill themselves much" and "Suicidal personalities are attracted to the military." Nobody blinked at that??

It's true that we're not randomly giving people war experience, so there's full license to come up with reasons for the association shown by research (courtesy Mobathome, above) showing veterans are doubly suicidal. My own view is that it'd be very disturbing to participate in shooting at people for a long time, so I don't so much need to go looking for an alternate hypothesis* like Mr Bliss'. But it's damn hard to prove. Maybe we could all just agree that it's the absence of a suitable welcome home that is the cause? Would we all be satisfied with that?

I agree that there's no reasonable math to explain the numbers CBS put up. Wouldn't be the world's first poorly reported story. But I have a question for all you paranoids -- don't you find it strange that nobody has a VA study to cite? They're too busy to run the numbers??

* My favorite alternative to a causal hypothesis: Lung cancer is elevated among smokers because prospective cancer victims have itchy lungs which they soothe by smoking cigs.
11.15.2007 6:28pm
anym_avey (mail):
An alternative explanation is that people making suicidal gesture use methods that don't work, while those who are more seriously interested at taking their lives use more efficacious methods. There is nothing to prevent men from slitting their wrists, or women from jumping in front of speeding trains.

Nothing to prevent it except that on average, they don't. It has long been known that men are more likely to attempt suicide via fast, violent methods...and consequently, they usually succeed.
11.15.2007 9:15pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
My own view is that it'd be very disturbing to participate in shooting at people for a long time,...

Probably more disturbing to have them shooting at you for a long time (grin). The data I've seen suggests that the duration of the events is a big factor. Going back to the Civil War, you don't see much evidence of people having problems during 1861-63, when the war consisted of 1-2-3 day of horrific combat, followed by breaks of 4-6 months. They DO start breaking in 1864-65, when the combat, while mostly lower level, was almost continuous.

Ah, for the good old days! I read a complaint of the period, from the staff of one of the General Hospitals in DC. They were upset that a cat house had set up right across the street, with the ladies displaying themselves in the windows so as to tempt the patients over, and exert themselves when they should have been resting.
11.15.2007 9:19pm
Ignorance is Bliss:

Corollaries include "Only real he-men kill themselves much" and "Suicidal personalities are attracted to the military." Nobody blinked at that??


I was thinking more in terms of 'action oriented', 'competent' ( in terms of succeeding when they try ), and 'less afraid of death'

But I was also clear to note that was just my suspicion, and that I had proven nothing. I don't know what effect military service has on suicide rates. Neither do the people who did the study.


I don't so much need to go looking for an alternate hypothesis* like Mr Bliss


No need to be so formal. You can call me Ignorance.

And you're right, there is no need to look for alternative hypothesis. Unless, of course, you care about the truth, and believe that the scientific method is the best way to determine the truth. In that case, you should consider as many alternative hypotheses as possible, and try to determine means of testing them to determine which is actually correct.
11.15.2007 9:25pm
Ignorance is Bliss:

My own view is that it'd be very disturbing to participate in shooting at people for a long time, so I don't so much need to go looking for an alternate hypothesis like Mr Bliss'.

I have to say that was such a slick rhetorical trick that I didn't even catch it the first time. Let me try it:

My own view is that demographic differences account for the differences in suicide rates, so I don't so much need to go looking for an alternate hypothesis like Mr. Bittern

I like it. I get to claim the dominant position, while you are left desperately looking for some alternative.

Please note that the position stated above is not actually my view. I suspect that if there is an elevated suicide rate amongst veterans that it is due to multiple factors, including demographics, combat stress, lack of a welcome home, etc.
11.15.2007 10:08pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ref. results of the Civil War.
I recall reading a history of the founding and earliest days of the RCMP. There was a post at a fort out in western Canada. Among the characters there were guys the Indians called "dead eyes", veterans of the American Civil War.
11.15.2007 11:16pm
Andrew Myers (mail):
The numbers here don't look statistically significant to me. Suppose that there are about 100k soldiers and each year a soldier has a 20/100k chance of killing himself. It's basic statistics that you'd expect that not exactly 20 soldiers would die each year -- there'd be some random fluctuation, with a standard deviation roughly around the square root of 20. So about 70% of the time you could expect to get between 15 and 25 deaths (one standard deviation). About 95% of the time you could expect to get between 10 and 30 deaths (two standard deviations). In other words, large-looking risk factors of 3:1 can seem to be there just because of random variation.

Any time people report numbers like this without reporting some kind of confidence intervals, you should probably ignore them.
11.15.2007 11:40pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Arkady: I e-mailed Prof. Rathbun Wednesday to pose my questions to him; I haven't yet heard back from him, but he may well be out of the office or occupied.
11.16.2007 1:11am
BGates:
Of course, the longer and older a man is the more likely he is to commit suicide
Well, that's bad news.

And I'm not even old yet.
11.16.2007 1:28am
clazy (mail):
Is it of any consequence that there are no veterans younger than, say, 20 or 21? If you are comparing suicides among males in a civilian population, you are including boys in your calculation of suicide rate. Is that appropriate? How would the number be skewed if you cut all the males under 21 out? Of course a lot of boys in the teens kill themselves; but very few preadolescents. I have no idea what the result would be, but it does seem that it should matter. (Perhaps that's why I'm not doing anything mathematical for a living.) Well?
11.16.2007 2:03am
ChrisPer (mail):
One thing missed here is the role of media in CREATING suicides. If they set this going as a 'cultural idea' of soldiers and ex-soldiers suiciding, they could cause a significant number of suicides that may not otherwise have occurred.

An excessive focus on the personal stories of victims, a high-profile victim; front-page attention to suicides all increase that risk.

Remember the late 70s and the 'Vietnam vet who snapped' meme in fiction? And freelance terrorists start via the same vector. It is known as the contagion effect or copycat effect and it is well proven to cause extra suicides.

If the media play this too loud they actually create more real deaths.
11.16.2007 3:32am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
ChrisPer.
Years ago, the Michigan State Police had a major event practice involving a number of forces.
The event--in the innocent days before school shootings raised the bar for "major"--was a deranged Vietnam vet holed up someplace.
The shrink who set up the parameters thought that was just dan and finedy.
I had a conversation with him, having had a class from him years earlier.
I made a number of observations, very politely, such as why should a Vietnam vet be, necessarily, a crack shot? How about all those fat, inadequate guys who have the foldouts from "Big Bore Blasters" on their walls and spend their time and money on the range but were too wacky to get into the Army? Was the guy a cook in Nam? Did he get to be a crack shot later, just for fun? Did he get the permanent twitches from all those nasty SEA drugs and can't hit a bull in the ass with a banjo?
The shrink said he wouldn't do it again. He owes his life to the fact that he really was peddling smoke. Since, if he'd been right, one of these deranged vets, of whom there are so many, would have waxed his sorry ass for him.
Since then, of course, real Vietvets have been notable by their absence from "major events".
I recall a VFW publication saying that the same thing was said in pop fiction in the Twenties about WW I vets. And I recall a pop detective story in S. California where the bad guy was a fighter pilot who got to like killing in WW II.
It's bullshit, of course, but the non-vets seem to just love it, right down to the tips of their painted toes.
Won't be going away any time soon.
11.16.2007 8:42am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Crap. Forgot. Tony Hillerman isn't too big for editing. But he's getting away with Comp 101 boners. But what really annoys me is that vets are grossly overrepresented among his bad guys.
And he's a vet.
He ought to know better.
11.16.2007 8:44am
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
J.F. Thomas writes:

JF Thomas, what's your military experience to back up this observation?

I have a very close relative who worked in mortuary affairs in Kuwait (where every dead soldier and civilian from Iraq and Afghanistan passes on the way back to the States). During this person's 7 month tour in Kuwait (this was back in 2004), there were several incidents of "accidental discharge" of personal weapons that resulted in death. In one particular instance related to me, the incident occurred in a bathroom stall but was still determined to be an "accident".

As for documentary evidence of the Army's concern about suicide rates in Iraq try this.
That link establishes the Army's concern about an increase in suicide rates in 2005. It does not in any way support your claim that the military is covering up suicides. But that's the level of reading comprehension that I have come to expect from J.F. Thomas.

Is there an increase in suicide rates among soldiers and veterans? I would be surprised if there was not. I know a lot of veterans, some of them of the current conflict, and some of them definitely have come back with significant psychological problems. Some of them have not. Some soldiers have severely stressful situations; others that I have talked to tell me that aside from the heat and dust, Iraq was a pretty decent duty assignment. Even under the same conditions, some people will respond differently from others.

CBS has zero credibility after the forged ANG memos.
11.16.2007 11:10am
skyler7:
Yeah Eug, you missed something. It's called reading the methodology.

"We asked the acting head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia, Steve Rathbun, to calculate the rate of suicide for 2004 to 2005. Rathbun adjusted the rates of suicide for age, gender and any potential error in the gathering of the raw data by the states."

It's done been controlled for gender and age. I understand why you'd miss it, I mean the methodology was all of 4 paragraphs long. And you're a busy man, what with all that suicide stat number crunching to do.
11.16.2007 4:07pm
Elliot123 (mail):
This comprison is way off base. Let's have one that shows suicide by age and occuptional group. That way we could compare suicides of 40-year-old vets to 40-year-old journalists, attorneys, or hookers. And, voila, we could compare all vets, journlists, attorneys, and hookers. I suspect there is a good bit of hand-wringing hiding in this data. (Categorization couldbe a problem; there are few veteran hookers, but I'm not sure about journalists or attorneys.)

Think of it. Those poor over-worked attorneys, toiling away 80 hours per week. Is it any wonder that our litigous society drives them to suicide at rates far exceeding even war vererans? And the daily pressures of deadline journalism, with its constant exposure to the unfairness of life. Weep for the poor reporter. Some journalists and attorneys just give up and neglect to look both ways when crossing busy streets. However, editors and the ABA conspire to report such deaths as accidents.

Is it any wonder hookers have the lowest suicide rate of all?
11.16.2007 5:13pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
skyler7: The trouble is that the Methodology page purported to show raw data broken down by sex, which I quoted, e.g.:
Overall Rates
Veterans: 17.5 to 21.8 per 100,000 ...

Male Rates
Veterans: 30.6 to 38.3 per 100,000

Female Rates
Veterans: 10.0 to 12.5 per 100,000 ...
Yet for these three items of raw data to all be accurate, women would have to be 62 to 64% of all veterans. In fact, they appear to be 7% of all veterans, which seems to me to make it impossible for all three items to be accurate.

Possibly the attempt to control for age (not sex, since the sex breakdowns are by definition not "controlled" for sex) throws these numbers off somewhat; but the Methodology page purports to report the actual rates, not age-adjusted rates -- and even if they were age-adjusted, the adjustment would have to be vast to allow the numbers to mesh. Am I right? Or am I still missing something?
11.16.2007 7:27pm
one of many:
EV, the methodology page is presenting adjusted numbers, the first note:. All of the rates of suicide we presented are adjusted. The overall rates are adjusted for age and gender in both the veteran and non-veteran populations. The male and female rates are age adjusted. And the age breakdowns are adjusted for gender.


And the age adjustments will be massive, I forget but aren't post 1990 veterans about 10% of the total veteran population?

I don't see how one can justify using the 20-24 cohort as a proxy for those who've served during the war on terror though, unless it is manipulated to account for those who wash out in training - indeep the 20-24 cohort might be a better proxy for those who get licked out the military. How many 18 year old enlistees are there who serve less than 6 years without joining the reserves (CBS says they disagreegated reservists from their numbers)? It cannot be too high, a large chunk of the 2 year enlistees go into the reserves, and most MOSs require a 4 or even a 6 year enlistment. When you factor in all those who aren't 18 at the tme of enlistment and those who don't serve just one term as well, the whole 20-24 cohort doesn't seem to be a reliable proxy for veterans who have seen combat in the war on terror.
11.17.2007 2:03pm
Smokey:
"...but the non-vets seem to just love it, right down to the tips of their painted toes."
Getting... weak... must... plagiarize... quote from... Aubrey...
11.17.2007 3:41pm
Randy R. (mail):
"Combat is horrifyingly stressful and our fellow citizens who are subjected to it deserve our special concern and sympathy but I doubt that the left in this country, including most of the "news" staff at CBS, is motivated by any real concern or sympathy for our troops, whom it is perfectly clear most on the left actually despise."

Oh, please. the "liberals hate the troops" is getting pretty tiresome. But I guess it's a nice way to play the victim card....

The Sunday NY Times magazine section did a fantastic article several years ago about the psychological problems the vets are having upon return from Iraq -- the nightmares, waking up at night, not being able to sleep, not being able to talk to their loved ones about the experiences, and the lack of help from the VA. It was done quite sympathically, and it moved me enough to find a VA support organization to give money to. Having had relatives who went through all that in Vietnam, I can't believe we haven't learned anything since then. It's much better to get this all out in the open than try to hide it under the rug.
11.17.2007 3:47pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Randy.
I suppose it's not liberals chasing recruiters out of San Francisco.

Soldiers are useful to the left when they are dead, wounded, commit atrocities, or suffer from PTSD.
There have been frequent references on VC and in other venues about the peacetime death rate. It is, compared to current casualties, pretty high, as well. So high, in fact, that there are arguments about whether the current situation is actually worse. As I've said before, I don't know about that, but it is clear that you couldn't have an instant's argument if the numbers weren't close.
What of the libs' concern for soldiers whose deaths can't be attributed to Bush? Right. Does. Not. Exist.
I know two WW II vets pretty well. They lived their postwar lives in an ordinary way. Jobs. Family. Each are widowers. Each has lost a child, one at birth, the other in war. Remaining children are doing well.
They still talk about their experiences. I mentioned to one that he ought to write his memoirs. "I'm still trying to forget," he said. Sometimes he gets practically to the point of being unable to speak, recounting what the Japs did to civilians and prisoners in the Phillipines.
Do these guys suffer from PTSD?
I suppose so, if you expand the definition enough. And that's the point. Justifiably or not, the definition has been expanded. And, quelle surprise, the numbers went up.
11.17.2007 11:15pm
Swede:
Apparently, Randy has read all of the comments and decided that he has something useful to add.

Turns out he was wrong.
11.18.2007 1:04am