Tuesday 9 September 2008

Stop the War Coalition does a Lancet

I was poking around the Stop the War Coalition site today in order to determine whether I could photoblog an upcoming protest next month.

Turns out I can't. I will be at work miles away.

However, I did find this incredible statement on their website:

Coppa said that “about 120” US war veterans commit suicide each week. She referred to an investigation by the CBS television network that found that in 2005 alone at least 6200 veterans killed themselves. In that one year, US military losses to suicide were higher than the official figure of US troop fatalities over five years of war in Iraq.

Take note of this term: US military losses to suicide

10 seconds worth of googling turned up this story:

...findings of preliminary Veterans Affairs Department research obtained by the Associated Press revealed for the first time that there were at least 283 suicides among veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and the end of 2005 and a total of 147 troops have killed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of the war. So on the whole 430 troops have killed themselves over the past six years...

And then there was this story which noted:

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to CBS.

There's no doubt the suicide rate per 100,000 is not that good:

While the suicide rate among the general population was 8.9 per 100,000, the level among veterans was between 18.7 and 20.8 per 100,000.

That figure rose to 22.9 to 31.9 suicides per 100,000 among veterans aged 20 to 24 - almost four times the non-veteran average for the age group.

But let's go back to the original statement made by Stop the War:

in 2005 alone at least 6200 veterans killed themselves. In that one year, US military losses to suicide were higher than the official figure of US troop fatalities over five years of war in Iraq

It might help to start with a definition. I was initially confused here, because I usually define a "veteran" as someone who has seen active service. That is, served in a war zone. Being shot at helps. However, the US definition of "veteran" appears to be anyone that has served in the armed forces and been honourably discharged. By that definition, I could pretty much call myself a veteran, but I am buggered if I ever will. Someone who served in Vietnam for instance deserves to be called a veteran. Someone that ponced around in peacetime can put up with being an ex-serviceman. Or ex-chocko.

That is why the US has 25 million living veterans - more than the entire Australian population. I guess it's also why they have the VFW - Veterans of Foreign Wars - so as to distinguish those who have gone overseas to face the elephant from those that haven't.

The dopes over at the Stop the War Coalition don't seem to grasp any of those ideas. To them, serving in the Boy Scouts is probably a sign that someone will grow up and work for Halliburton as a torturer in Guatemala.

So out of 25 million living veterans, 6200 killed themselves in 2005. We do not know how many of those were veterans of WW II, Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Gulf War I or even Grenada. We do not know how many actually served in a war zone, as opposed to sweeping snow off runways in Alaska during the Cold War. Somehow, Stop the War turns the suicide of (say)a 48 year old who served as a clerk in a motor pool in Germany from 1980 to 1983, and who was discharged in 1986, into a "US Military loss", and associates that loss with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I don't get it. Tell me if I am missing something here, or whether Stop the War are just completely misusing statistics that they don't understand. I guess they will stoop to any means to inflate the body count.

The Veterans Affairs Dept does tell us this:

...there were at least 283 suicides among veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and the end of 2005...

Again, these people committed suicide after they had left the military. That is how you become a veteran. You leave the military. You become a civilian again. How do they become a combat loss? Do we know that all 283 of these people served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan? Just because someone joins the military, it doesn't mean that they automatically serve a tour in somewhere like Iraq. Remember, the military is not just the Army and the Marines - it includes the Navy and the Air Force. What if some of these suicide cases actually served on submarines in the Navy, and never got anywhere near the Persian Gulf or Afghanistan? (Pretty hard to get close to Afghanistan in a sub.) Or they might have spent their time in the air force based in Japan, running the PX.

This is all part of the perception on the part of some of these lefty wankers that all veterans come back as damaged goods, and I resent that.

But let's recap on the numbers.

Stop the War think 6200 veterans killed themselves in 2005.

With a suicide rate of 20.8 per 100,000 and 25 million veterans, I make that 5200 suicides per year. And remember, the suicide rate in the general population is 8.9 per 100,000, so of those 25 million, you'd expect 2225 to take their own life each year anyway.

But the DVA tells us that 430 troops who actully served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan have killed themselves over a 6 year period, or about 70 per year.

If you really wanted to make a case for some suicides being cases of "delayed combat deaths", then I might let you add a portion of those 70 per year - but not all of them. At most, you'd get those over and above the suicide rate in the general population.

Whichever way you look at it, it's a long way short of 6200.

The Ghost of Lancet walks again.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Suicide rate is affected by IQ. To join the military one has to pass an IQ test (now renamed in the US to avoid sensitivities, I'm told).

The suicide rate of just about any defined group is probably higher than the gen pop. College profs for example.

And the disgusting 'damaged goods' theory: There have been some high profile suicides amongst the police in recent years, are they also 'damaged goods'?

Durkheim did a classic study of suicide, trying to explain why suicide rates in the 19th century were higher among Protestants than Catholics.


Anyway, trendies usually regard suicides as sign of heightened 'sensitivity'. But I'll just bet there's some idiot academic right now doing a 'study' to prove this does not apply to military folk.

Anonymous said...

I was a door-to-door Gallup poller for a few years a decade ago.

Met one bloke who gave his occupation as 'professional assassin', had been an AIF sniper in Vietnam, a jolly, friendly generous, honest bloke - type you instantly know you can trust. Mind you he was on invalid pension, looked like a physical ailment since he had trouble standing. 'Assassin' was the only real job he'd had. My age it turned out, had lied his age to go to Viet as a 16 yr old (!). I turned 18 the year they did away with conscription, but it had then been 2 years since anyone was sent to Viet if I recall - they'd been scaling down for quite a while allowing Whitlam to jump in and take credit for what was already planned.

I may be younger than you think and you may be older than I thought - I'm a 1955'er.