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CBS veteran suicide numbers bogus?

By Warner Todd Huston
web posted December 3, 2007

On the CBS "Early Show" last month, co-host Julie Chen claimed that there was "an alarming suicide rate among veterans" of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflicts. CBS then aired a report that went on to claim that the suicide rate for our troops had wildly climbed. Our own Newsbuster Kyle Drennen had his doubts about the report when the show originally aired and now comes an editorial by oftentime military reporter Michael Fumento further casting large amounts of skepticism on the CBS report.

The CBS show specifically wanted to make it seem like Iraq war vets are the ones that have seen these outrageously rising suicide rates. Reporter Armen Keteyian included in his report this opener:

"Staff Sergeant Justin Reyes spent a violent year serving in Iraq…Medical records show Justin suffered severe psychological trauma after witnessing "multiple dead" and having to "sort through badly mutilated bodies." Earlier this year, one month after separating from the Army, Justin hanged himself with a cord in his apartment, at just 26…families recently sat down to talk about losing loved ones, all veterans of Iraq, to suicide…Mia Sagahon's boyfriend, Walter, shot himself at age 27 about a
year and a half after he came back from Iraq."

Clearly CBS is pinning these so-called high numbers on the war on terror.

But, Fumento comes out now to throw some cold water on CBS's inflamed claims and give us some much needed facts to ponder. Initially remarking that the statistics that CBS arrived at were had by their own reckoning, not that of any third party agency that might be less biased than CBS, Fumento wonders how those numbers were arrived at?

"Problem is, we have absolutely no way of verifying the CBS data nor how the network claims it collected the info. CBS News admits to collecting the data itself, rather than relying on an independent outside party. It also concedes its rate is ‘much higher' than that in an uncompleted Department of Veterans Affairs study."

Like CBS, Fumento focused on the age group of the 20 through 24 Vets that CBS claimed were most vulnerable and found a conflict between CBS's claims and that of other sources.

"For example, CBS put special emphasis on vets of the current wars. "One age group stood out," it said: "veterans age 20 through 24, those who have served during the War on Terror. They had the highest suicide rate among all veterans, estimated between two and four times higher than civilians the same age.

CBS said the suicide rate of these young vets was 22.9 to 31.9 per 100,000 people.

Which looks very strange next to the data on active duty soldiers in the War on Terror.

Last month, the Army released a report finding that the suicide rate among these GIs in 2006 was 17.3 per 100,000 troops – rather lower than CBS's rate for veterans. Why would soldiers who were recently on active duty be killing themselves at a much higher rate than those still serving?"

Fumento also found that the CBS claim that the suicide rate was "two to four times higher" than corresponding civilian rates is untrue.

"More important still, the Army study corrected for some key demographic facts – notably, that the military is largely male and that men are much likelier to commit suicide than women are. Among civilians who match the overall age, gender and race profile of the U.S. Army, the suicide rate was 19 per 100,000 – higher than for the troops.

So, even if CBS's numbers for younger vets' suicides hold up, the rate isn't twice the relevant civilian one – let alone the ‘two to four times higher' that CBS claimed."

Fumento goes into more depth and you really should check out the link to read the whole thing.

What we have, though, is a TV station presenting wildly inflated numbers, uncorrected by demographic factors, all presented in order to sensationalize the important work of assuring the mental health of our vets in an obvious effort to discredit both the government and the war on terror.

No agenda there, eh? ESR

Warner Todd Huston is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

 

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