Suicide Rates Among Veterans

Matt over at Machination wrote a little blurb on veteran suicide rates. I was immediately suspicious as to whether the statistic of 6,256 suicides in 2005 was actually meaningful, or whether it was just an attempt to play shock-the-public. Suicide is much more common than people generally realize. More people commit suicide every year than are murdered. (And if that isn’t an indication of how screwed up civilization is, I don’t know what is. But I digress.)

Let’s take a few minutes with Google and a calculator: First, let’s pull the national suicide rate for 2005: 89.4 suicides per day. If there were 6,256 veteran suicides in 2005, then that means there was 17.1 suicides per day among that group. Divide that by 89.4 suicides per day for the general population, and it turns out that 19.2% of the suicides every day are by people formerly serving in the military. Good to know. Now, is that actually significant?

If all other things are equal, then we would expect veterans to commit suicide at a rate proportional to their representation in the population. So let’s get the total U.S. population of veterans: 26,403,703 people. That means veterans make up about 9.3% of the U.S. population.

And there you have it: Veterans make up 9.3% of the population, but make up 19.2% of the suicides. The evidence suggests that veterans really are more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

Unfortunately, the only good numbers for the number of veterans are from the 2000 census, so we could be a bit off on our percentages; but it seems doubtful that the percentages changed enough from 2000 to 2005 to skew the results significantly. Also, it should be pointed out that the number of suicides per day reported above was only for 45 states. Since our other statistics are for the entire population, that means that unless the other five states had zero veteran suicides in 2005, then the percentage of suicides for veterans is actually greater than reported. So the problem is even worse than the numbers here show.

It looks like the numbers from CBS check out. It’s nice to see reporters checking their facts now and then. Good job!