Calculating Veteran Suicides: A News21 Analysis
The “hidden casualties” of veteran suicide have received considerable recent attention, but no agency or advocacy group has gathered comprehensive national and state data about the scope of this tragedy. News21 has attempted to fill this information gap by making public records requests about veteran suicides from each state health department in the country. State death certificates generally note only whether a decedent had served in the armed forces at any period in their lives; it is impossible to tell from this data what percentage of them served during the post-9/11 era.
The years 2005 to 2011 were selected for analysis because some states did not have available veteran suicide data from earlier years. Civilian and veteran suicide rates per 100,000 people were calculated using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) annual mortality reports and American Community Survey (ACS) population numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau spanning those years.
News21’s rates differ from the CDC’s overall annual suicide rates, which count the entire U.S. population while News21’s calculations are among veterans and the adult civilian population, respectively. The CDC doesn’t separate state-by-state suicide tallies by age in its reports, so New21’s civilian suicide rate is not age-adjusted while the rest of its numbers are purely among adults. Adjusting raw rates for age, gender and race can allow for more direct comparisons, but there was not sufficient data to do so.
Though the overall suicide rate for the veteran population is higher than that of the civilian population, several demographic factors should be considered. Suicide rates are generally higher among whites, males and the elderly. Whites account for 82 percent of the veteran population but only 64 percent of the civilian population. Only 6 percent of veterans are women. And the median age of veterans is about 64, whereas the median age of nonveterans is 49.
Gender statistics among veteran suicides were derived from breakdowns provided by 30 states. About 97 percent of all veteran suicides in those states were males. News21 also received age group data from 36 states.