Veteran Suicides: Question (with Several Updates)

This week, I heard a member of the Obama Administration assert that “22 veterans” commit suicide in America every day. That’s more than 8,000 each year.

 

For 2013, the total number of deaths by suicide recorded  was 41,159. Thus, putting the two numbers together, about one suicidee in five would be a veteran.

 

I find this very hard to believe, knowing that suicide affects particularly older people  and that most current veterans today are not old.

 

Am I the only one who is skeptical? More alarmism? More underhanded  propaganda against our collective resolve to  defend ourselves ?

Update from the Los Angeles Times consulted 2/13/15

 

Respectable source:

[published in the] “February issue of the Annals of Epidemiology, included all 1,282,074 veterans who served in active-duty units between 2001 and 2007 and left the military during that period.”

“One statistic has become a rallying cry: 22 veterans take their own lives each day.

That figure is a national estimate based on a Department of Veterans Affairs analysis of death records from 21 states. Though it is usually cited in the context of the recent wars, most of those suicides involved older veterans, who account for the vast majority of the nation’s 22 million former service members.

Among veterans in the current study, there was one suicide a day.”

(All boldings mine.)

“The rate was slightly higher among veterans who never deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq, suggesting that the causes extend beyond the trauma of war.”

Here is the link so you may judge for yourselves. (It was provided by Martin Anding; I thank him.):

http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-veteran-suicide-20150115-story.html

My question has still not been answered but I am making progress  and I have learned interesting things  in terms of the underlying narrative.

First things first:  The fact that there is a little more suicide among members of the military never deployed does not rule out the line pushed by pacifists right  and left. The reason is that it’s possible that military authorities are watchful and careful to not deploy those who are in fragile mental health. (This is also noted by a critic of the article on veteran suicides in Wikepedia.) Thus those not deployed may commit suicide for their own reasons while those  who are deployed commit suicide for a different set of reasons related to their deployment in a war zone.

Again, this could be true. I suspect it’s not because most of those deployed do not ever see actual combat. So, we are not dealing here with two discrete categories such as: combat/non-combat, but with a sort of near-continuum, like this: zero exposure to combat to much exposure to combat, with everything in between. If this description is correct, it does nothing to sustain the speculation I advanced above about different causes of suicide for non-deployed and deployed military. Most military personnel never hear a gun  shot in anger. Only a few are in a position to have been broken by combat. Military personnel commit suicide – at whatever rate – for other reasons. This is not a final judgment. I can imagine additional data that would make me turn on a dime.

The finding that non-deployed military personnel commit suicide at a  somewhat higher rate than those deployed does not kill the hypothesis that war is a cause of suicide but it sure as hell does not support it.

Now on to the actual rates. The study  that provides the astonishing figure of 22 per day is based on data from only 21 states.  So, there could be a big sampling issue with it. Nevertheless, I cannot wrap my mind around this idea: If data  for the 29 missing states were included the number of 22 per day would shrink to the point where I, JD, would not pay attention. Frankly, I think that any number close to ten per day would seem too high.

I can think of only one study design that would give this kind of high number (22/day). That would be if the study designers had deliberately cherry-picked the states with the highest rate of veteran suicides and deliberately excluded the states with low numbers. I do not believe that anyone did this (not). Yet, the number 21, as in 21 states out of fifty, leaves me uneasy. There may well be  a legitimate explanation in  the fine  print of the study. So, let’s not jump to conclusions

(Continued the next day.)

I have now spent more time on this issue than any ordinary s citizen should be required to do in order to decide whether a startling figure from his own government is to be trusted. Nevertheless, I am left  with two incompatible estimates of the frequency of veteran suicides.

The two figures, 22 per day and 1 (one per day) are too far apart to be reconciled, according to my experience. One study of the two studies is flawed, or both are. I smelled a rat the first time  I heard the figure of 22 per day, that rat has only become stinkier.

The two figures could not be that far apart if both studies were honest and competent. That’s because suicide is  a a fairly well defined act. I am aware that there is a tendency, especially among Catholics, to camouflage suicide as natural death. I think it’s waning and  plays a small role nowadays. If I am wrong, the most likely effect is an underestimate in both figures, 12 and one. This would not affect the gap that bothers me. I mean that suicide is “well defined,” as opposed to say. job discrimination based on race, sexual harassment, or date rape.

If I had to chose a rate, I would consider the sources. The first figure comes from a government agency, the Veterans Administration which is a natural lobby and has experienced a lot of political trouble recently. In addition (in addition), it’s part of an administration that has repeatedly offered us fanciful and grotesque  figures. I repeat: a recent Pentagon study claims that 40% of victims of sexual abuse in the military are males. The lower figure, on the other hand, comes from a study published in a scholarly journal. Because of this publication, I trust that it has been subjected to a fair degree of  critical appraisal through peer review. Peer review is not a panacea as scandals associated with climate change pseudo-studies have shown, also the fake medical study at the root of the widespread belief that autism is tied to vaccination. Yet, peer review as practiced in most American and British scholarly journal is a lot better than nothing. (See my essay on peer review, on this blog: https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/?s=peer+review ). To pose the question this way is pretty much the same as to answer it. The figure of one suicide of veterans per day is more likely to be correct than the figure of 22.

It seems to be that I should now allow my ideological preference for the latter figure deter me from using common sense and everything I know about quantitative research. It should  only make be careful and open to criticism from those of a a different mind set.

Those who wish to push an avoidance of war agenda  should not do it on the basis of dubious figures proffered by an administration now known for its light relationship with facts. It seems to me also that the undebatable draw on treasury of every war, the obvious fact that some soldiers die in battle, and the inevitable occurrence of “collateral damage,” the killing and maiming of innocent civilians in theaters of war should suffice. Pacifists who are also libertarians might also consider shouldering the task of explaining to the great unwashed masses of their imagination how every war inevitably enlarges the scope of government.

 

 

About Jacques Delacroix

I write short stories, current events comments, and sociopolitical essays, mostly in English, some in French. There are other people with the same first name and same last name on the Internet. I am the one who put up on Amazon in 2014: "I Used to Be French: an Immature Autobiography" and also: "Les pumas de grande-banlieue." To my knowledge, I am the only Jacques Delacroix with American and English scholarly publications. In a previous life, I was a teacher and a scholar in Organizational Theory and in the Sociology of Economic Development. (Go ahead, Google me!) I live in the People’s Green Socialist Republic of Santa Cruz, California.
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10 Responses to Veteran Suicides: Question (with Several Updates)

  1. Brandon Christensen says:

    No, it’s true.

    So-called conservatives – who are really just collectivists – and their faith in one government program (the military) but not all the others has always been a source of inspiration for me. It’s nice knowing, after all, there are plenty of people out there in the world who are dumber and more dogmatic than me!

    Before you demand that I provide proof, I want to make a bet. Are you willing to put money on the line for your beliefs (cleverly disguised as skepticism)?

  2. Brandon: As usual, you lean so much overboard that you fall in. (I can just hope that it’s into the sea.) I did not express “beliefs” but skepticism. If you don’t believe it’s genuine skepticism, just go away, I don’t have time.

    I am ready to be persuaded that the skepticism is misplaced in this case. I often learn a lot that way. Two alternatives: 1 I swallow every figure this pathetic administration is dishing out; that’s clearly absurd; 2 I conduct my own study; that’s not absurd but it’s very time-consuming. I can’t do it every single time someone says something important that is widely believed but implausible. (The Pentagon delivered itself a of a study last year claiming that 40% of the victims of sexual assault in the military are MEN!

    https://factsmatter.wordpress.com/2013/05/20/grabass-rape-and-stuff-i-dont-understand/)

    What I did with the matter of suicides is take a shortcut. There is a good chance someone will direct me to the relevant figures. One of my readers did try, within minutes of the posting. You did not. Your profession of faith is worthless.

    Dear readers: The underlying theme of this discussion is this: I suspect that the alleged veterans’ extraordinary suicide rate is part of the narrative that joins liberals and libertarians at the hip like unhappy Siamese twins. It’s an unreasoned, need-jerk, morally unsound closet pacifism that I believe (BELIEVE) has disastrous consequences for a peaceful democratic life.

    Libertarians fixated on their orthodoxy become angry when they hear me because they know that I share their belief that war is the worst thing that can happen to the dream of a smaller government society

    • Brandon Christensen says:

      No, everybody knows that you’re expressing beliefs not skepticism. Your inability to tell the truth – or simply to admit that you made a mistake – in regards to 9/11 and Saudi Arabia is proof positive of that.

      Your straw man fallacies were enrapturing when I was younger. Now, they just seem petty and thoughtless. Anybody who is afraid – chicken – to put his money where his mouth is is not worth pursuing. Good luck with your scripture studies!

  3. No comment. I am afraid Brandon will piss himself.

  4. Brandon Christensen says:

    Jacques is making mistakes to his gullible readers again.

    The study put out by the VA was careful to note that its statistics suggest far higher rates of suicide among veterans than the evidence from 21 states suggests.

    You do the logic yourself.

  5. David says:

    and here I hope that every time Brandon writes as if he’s leaving (“Good luck with your scripture studies!”) that he actually intends to leave…alas! I am disappointed in every case!

    In terms of Brandon siding with the VA study (a bit odd for a Libertarian, methinks!), the VA has a hard enough time processing wait lines/times; so I would be less inclined to vouch for the VA.

    On an unrelated note, I’m beginning to suspect Brandon is a closeted Democrat, possibly with a shrine to Obama in the closet he’s hiding in.

    • Brandon Christensen says:

      So you don’t have an argument. Got it.

      I want extra pickles on my burger please, and no mayonnaise.

      PS: My name is in 3 of the 4 sentences you wrote If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a little man crush on me. If you hook me up with some extra fries I’ll be more liable to flirt with you the next time I’m at your drive-thru window.

  6. Brandon: Your last comment, weeks ago, is not addressed to anyone in particular. Readers might think you think I have a crush on you. The horror! Please correct.

    Incidentally, you have not said anything of substance about my critique of the VA suicides sensations. The numbers are ridiculous!

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