MSRC News Details

Media Misleads on Military Veterans Suicide Study

Vet Suicides Have Dropped While Civilian Suicides Have Increased

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently released a report titled Suicide Data Report 2012. The study's authors, Janet Kemp, RN Ph.D. and Robert Bossarte, Ph.D., used data from the VA and some 21 states to examine the issue of suicide and the military veteran. The report looked at both completed suicides and suicide attempts and the authors include many cautions about the interpretation of their data.

Suicide Data Report 2012

Study Limits

The study used data from 21 states for the 13 years from 1999 through 2011. Those states hold an estimated 40.6 percent of the U.S. population in 2012. The two states with the largest population, California and Texas, were not included in the study. In those 21 states, 23 percent of all suicides were excluded because the state's death record contained no information on the veteran's status of the deceased. The study examined 77 percent of the recorded suicides in 40.6 percent of the population.

Media Coverage

Reuters reports "The most extensive study yet by the U.S. government on suicide among military veterans shows more veterans are killing themselves than previously thought, with 22 deaths a day -- or one every 65 minutes, on average." CBS Washington states, "The results of a new study indicate that suicide rates among veterans in the United States are increasing." USA Today has this in its lede: "An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide in the United States every day."

22 Suicides per Day?

The researchers found a total of 147,763 suicides in 21 states over the 13 years examined. Veterans were identified in 22 percent of those deaths. The study says "Estimates that the number of suicides among Veterans each day has increased, are based on information provided by 21 states and may not be generalizable to the larger Veteran population. ... estimates of the number of Veterans who have died from suicide each day based on proxy report of history of U.S. military service should be interpreted with caution." The study suggests that 22 veterans commit suicide on average each day while the data above suggests an average of 2,500 suicides by veterans per year or under seven per day in the 21 states studied. The study states that there is a significant state error rate in reporting veterans status. It also reveals a wide variation in veteran suicide rates among the 21 states, ranging from 7 to 27 percent.

Other Study Findings

The study finds that the greatest number of suicides among veterans in the data they studied were in white males over age 50. The study made no attempt to determine if those veterans were retirees with 20-30 years of service, or had served the minimum time (three to five years), nor did the study examine the type of discharge (honorable, dishonorable, etc.) the deceased veterans had received. The authors also found that while suicide rates among the general population have been increasing, those among veterans in the states studied have remained constant, with the estimated daily number of suicides decreasing slightly.

The Census Bureau estimates that there are 21.5 million veterans in the United States. There are 19.3 million male veterans and 2.2 million women vets. The VA study on veteran suicide explores a troubling problem within the community of military veterans but, as it states repeatedly, it is not a definitive study. It does suggest that VA programs supporting mental health in vets are improving outcomes, and that more work is needed.

Original Article