Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Among recent veterans, the suicide rate is much worse than the "22 a day" slogan implies

Image result for veteran suicide
Among recent veterans, the suicide rate is much worse than the "22 a day" slogan implies. Photo from Buzzfeed.


WaPo Factchecker
"A new study funded by the Army shows the suicide rate for veterans who served in recent wars is much lower than 22 a day. [This might be so, but it is also irrelevant; it's the rates per 100,000 that matter, Ed.]  The study, published in the February 2015 Annals of Epidemiology, is the first large population-based study of post-service suicide risk among this population. Researchers used veteran records from two Defense Department databases, verified Social Security information and used the CDC’s National Death Index Plus. They studied 1.3 million veterans who were discharged between 2001 and 2007. Among deployed veterans in this report, 32.6 percent were born in 1978-1981 and 30 percent were born in 1982-1990.
Between 2001 and 2009, there were 1650 deployed veterans and 7703 non-deployed veteran deaths. Of those, 351 were suicides among deployed veterans and 1517 were suicides among non-deployed veterans. That means over nine years, there was not quite one veteran suicide a day.
This is not to say, however, that suicide is not a concern among that population. One in two veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars say they know a fellow service member who attempted or committed suicide, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Health poll."


So, who will check the Fact Checkers? The study cited above reported 1,868 suicide deaths out of 1.3 million veterans discharged between 2001 and 2007. That's a suicide death rate of 143.7 out of every 100,000 people in that recent veteran population (rate/100,000 persons is the standard way to report suicide rates). That's a huge and alarming number. Essentially, recent veterans are dying by suicide at about seven-times the rate of other American males.

For comparison sake, the suicide death rate for American males is 21.1, and for White Males, the most at-risk demographic for death by suicide, it is 24.1. White Males account for 82 of the 117 deaths by suicide each day in the United States (70%).

My problem with the "22 veteran suicides a day" claim is that that it conflates veterans of various eras. I would prefer to see reported rates for veterans of the Iraq/Afghanistan era (e.g., 143.7/100,000), First Gulf War, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II.

If the 22 a day statistic is accurate, that means 8,030 veteran suicide deaths a year. According to the VA, there are 21,368,156 American veterans, so that would mean a suicide death rate of 37.6 per 100,000. (8,030 divided by 21,368,156, and then multiplied by 100,000.)

Given that, according to the CDC, the suicide death rate is 38.8 per 100,000 for males aged 75 and older, 26.6 for males aged 65-74, and 29.7 for males aged 45-64, the "the 22 a day" claim does not seem outrageous to me.

We should probably brace ourselves for yet further increases in suicide deaths, as the "peak Vietnam generation" (age 20 in 1968) are only 68 years old and have seven more years until they reach the deadliest suicide age range.

Here's a table I created, using #veterans by age group, multiplied by three suicide rates (Males, White Males, 22/day Veterans). It assumes that the rates are the same across age group, which they doubtless are not.

US Males White Males Veterans
Age Groups #Veterans 21.1 24.1 37.6
< 20 5,793 1.28 1.40 2.18
20-24 231,391 51.14 55.77 87.00
25-29 761,053 168.19 183.41 286.16
30-34 1,005,899 222.30 242.42 378.22
35-39 1,145,089 253.06 275.97 430.55
40-44 1,187,405 262.42 286.16 446.46
45-49 1,555,295 343.72 374.83 584.79
50-54 1,758,347 388.59 423.76 661.14
55-59 1,915,263 423.27 461.58 720.14
60-64 1,956,181 432.32 471.44 735.52
65-69 2,767,254 611.56 666.91 1040.49
70-74 2,531,807 559.53 610.17 951.96
75-79 1,636,010 361.56 394.28 615.14
80-84 1,377,425 304.41 331.96 517.91
85+ 1,533,944 339.00 369.68 576.76
Grand Total 21,368,156 4722.36 5149.73 8034.43
Per Day 12.94 14.11 22.01





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