My Leg’s Wet Again, and the Sky Is Clear

| March 14, 2019 | 48 Comments

I read Dave Hardin’s article the other day about elderly veterans and suicide.  And I noticed a couple of things.

The whole premise of the NPR article that Dave discussed was that elderly veterans commit suicide at “too high” a rate – and the VA was “trying to figure out why”.  Hell, the NPR article was titled, “VA Struggles To Unlock The Reasons Behind High Suicide Rates Among Older Veterans”.  Here’s a quote (emphasis added):

“. . . . statistics show that the suicide rate for elderly veterans is higher than that of non-veterans of the same age.”

Well, longtime TAH readers know I’m a “numbers kinda guy”.   I like seeing the data itself – and I hate being told, “Pay no attention to the (data) behind the screen.”  (smile) So I did a bit of digging.

When I “pulled the thread”, it turned out that the article Dave linked in turn linked to a VA webpage about a study the VA had conducted regarding veteran suicides during the period from 2005 to 2016.   That webpage had links to both the VA study itself (.pdf format) and its supporting data sheets (.xlsx format).

The study was typical “executive summary” fluff – a dozen pages with lots of pictures and hand-waving, but not much of real substance.  In contrast, the data sheets contained relevant hard data.  Those datasheets can be found at this URL:

So I took a look at the actual data.  And I promptly got rather . . . disgusted. As well as angry.

It always disgusts and angers me when I’ve been lied to.  It doesn’t matter whether the lie was deliberate or was due to gross negligence, incompetence, or ignorance.  I won’t speculate on the reason for this whopper.

So I’m going to vent a bit. And I’m going to examine the VA study data the way NPR should have examined it – but didn’t.

. . .

“Elderly” isn’t a precisely defined term. One can start at any number of ages; Medicare eligibility is one typical starting point. That’s age 65 for those eligible.

Unfortunately, the VA study’s data doesn’t have a category for either gender starting at age 65. So I’ll include two categories from the data as “elderly”: 55-74, and 75+. Since I don’t know how much of the 55-74 category was 65+ – and also don’t know how many suicides in that category’s total were aged 65-74 – I’ll count the whole 55-75 category for each gender as “elderly”. (The NPR article references that category when discussing elderly veteran suicides, so they apparently consider that category as “elderly”.)

The VA study’s data also doesn’t include a 75+ category for females (you’ll have to ask the VA why; I have my own theory, but it’s speculation at this point). However, the study data includes enough other information to allow the female 55+ categories to be partitioned accurately into 55-74 and 75+ subcategories. I’ve done that below; the note at the end of the article details how.

Here are the actual numbers from the VA study concerning “elderly veterans” and suicide rates, broken out by age and gender.  I’ve included the same numbers for both veterans and non-veterans for the categories of interest (“elderly”)  for comparison.  Remember:  the NPR article’s whole basis is that “the suicide rate for elderly veterans is higher than that of non-veterans of the same age”.

Suicide Data for 2016, from the VA National Suicide Data Report 2005-2016
Category # Suicides Population Rate/100k
Male Veterans, 55-74 2,180 8,161,000 26.7
Male Non-Veterans, 55-74 7,028 25,233,311 27.9
Male Veterans, 75+ 1,270 4,356,000 29.2
Male Non-Veterans, 75+ 2,021 3,995,165 50.6
Female Veterans, 55-74 79 573,000 13.8
Female Non-Veterans, 55-74 2,875 36,166,904 7.9
Female Veterans, 75+ 4 143,000 2.8
Female Non-Veterans, 75+ 506 12,039,192 4.2

Numbers in bold italics show “elderly” categories where veterans have lower suicide rates than non-veterans.  Those categories collectively account for nearly 95.67% of all veterans aged 55 or more.

You know, looking at those numbers it seems to me that veterans are actually doing considerably better than the nonveteran population (e.g., have a lower suicide rate) in 3 out of the 4 “elderly” categories.  In fact, it appears that the only “elderly” category (if you can call it that) where the veteran suicide rate is higher than the non-vet rate is females aged 55-74.

And I’m not really sure about those female 55-74 categories and “elderly” suicide. If I had the information to separate those accurately into 55-64 and 65-74 subcategories, I suspect we’d find that the 65-74 category had a substantially lower suicide rate. Other published data from CDC concerning US suicides appears to indicate that the 45-64 age category has the highest female suicide rate, and that the female suicide rate drops sharply in the 65-74 age group. It’s entirely possible that the actual female veteran suicide rate for the age 65-74 subgroup is lower than that of female non-veterans. Or not. Dunno.

But then again, what do I know?  I just read standard English well enough to be able to read a table of numbers from the VA and understand which corresponding numbers are larger than others – and I also know that you need to compare apples to apples, not to a bowl of fruit salad.  I guess I’m just too ignorant to “adjust” or interpret the perfectly clear raw data the VA made public correctly. (For those who are humor-imparied: yes, that last sentence is sarcasm.)

Bottom line: when the actual data is examined in detail, it shows that close to 96% of veterans age 55 and over fall into categories with lower suicide rates than the corresponding non-veteran population. That fact is hidden by using, perhaps intentionally, the combined (male + female) suicide rate instead of the examining the suicide rates corersponding to the relevant breakout by age and gender.

It’s hidden because the vast majority of veterans over 55 years of age are male (nearly 94.6%) – and males have a far greater propensity to commit suicide than females at all ages. The general population of that same age (55+), in contrast, is nearly 5/8 female (just under 62.3% female).

. . .

I really hate it when someone p!sses on my leg and tells me it’s rain.  And in this case, IMO NPR did exactly that.

In the NPR article Dave cited, NPR told an irrelevant truth. NPR then implied that point was relevant, making it the focal point of their article – and allowed the reader to assume that irrelevant point represented reality when in general it does not. By doing so, NPR grossly misled anyone reading the article. You’ll have to ask NPR whether that was done intentionally or via incompetence.

I’m also bothered by the VA failing to break out the female data into the same age categories as males. Sufficient data is present to allow that, but it simply wasn’t done. You’ll have to ask the VA why – because doing so would certainly make a valid “apples-to-apples” comparison significantly easier.

Time permitting, I’ll have more to say on the matter in the future.


(Note: the female data provided by the VA in the study’s data sheets does not include a 75+ category; it provides a 55+ category instead. However, the male and combined (male + female) data for both vets and non-vets provides sufficient information to allow the 75+ figures for suicides and population for the categories “female veterans” and “female non-veterans” to be calculated from the male and combined (male + female) data that was included. By subtracting those calculated values from the corresponding female “55+” category figures, the 55-74 age group figures for female suicides and population can then be determined. That in turn allows determination of the correct suicide rates per 100k population for each of those 4 female categories.)

Category: "The Floggings Will Continue Until Morale Improves", "Your Tax Dollars At Work", Media!, Veterans Issues

Comments (48)

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  1. Ex-PH2 says:

    Well, there goes another sensationalist bit of cabbage right down the drain.

    If it weren’t for making stuff up all the time, there wouldn’t be much news at all, and those idjits wouldn’t have jobs.

  2. 5th/77th FA says:

    Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Let’s bend this to suit our agenda. Who’s gonna dig thru this morass and try to discredit what we say?

    I’m wid you Hondo, wasn’t that good with math, but I was hell with arithmetic. And I generally have excellent reading/comprehension skills.

    It’s not raining there;…they ARE pissing on your leg.

    ps…Don’t consider 55-65 “elderly” myself either. This time last year at 65, I was keeping up with and surpassing linemen half my age. Coupla TIAs have slowed me down and will be forced to retire very soon. Balance and height issues. Some of our members here are 75 + and still going strong.

  3. GDContractor says:

    Great. I wake up and read that, according to Hondo, I’m elderly.

  4. Jay says:

    Well of course, if you DIG into it, it’s GONNA fall apart. Can’t you just TRUST the government, Hondo?

    Unless……they are putting these “High Suicide” numbers as a way to over medicate, thus make veterans “mentally unstable” for firearm ownership. The crazier it sounds, the MORE it makes sense.

    • Hondo says:

      Actually, Jay, the VA mostly “came clean” here. (I say “mostly” because of their failure to separate out the female 55+ caetgories into 55-74 and 75+ categories). It was NPR that “screwed the pooch” here.

      However, “Don’t touch that dial.” (smile) I may well calling out the VA in a future article on the subject. Dunno for certain yet.

  5. Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

    If we aren’t all mentally ill as we age it ruins the Hollywood meme that we’re all damaged goods due to our service.

    If we are in fact less likely to kill ourselves as we age out it means we’re actually better off for having served. That’s one of those tough to swallow pills for the kinds of people who bribe their kids’ way into college.

  6. AnotherPat says:

    To make it more confusing, this is what the VA Study determined:

    “Rates of suicide were highest among younger Veterans (ages 18-34) and lowest among older Veterans (ages 55 and older). However, because the older Veteran population is the largest, this group accounted for 58.1 percent of Veteran suicide deaths in 2016.”

  7. Outcast says:

    Hondo,And yet the VA does not show true statistics to show the reality they face. Veterans versus Civilians, somewhat poor but true statistics. How about reality such as Combat veterans versus noncombat versus civilians. Even though this would create a better picture it would still be erroneous as to not all combat Vets as well non combat are registered with the VA because of income limits as well as lots of Combat do not enroll because the help they need is not totally available to them. I know of lots of vets here in town and when you take combat vets versus non combat, the percentages of non combat in the VA is far higher then the combat. Polls only show what some paper pusher wants to show and in the case of the VA, when you take one desk jockey at say Ft. Hood that spent his full enlistment there and once a year had to qualify with his weapon, suffered paper cuts and claims severe PTSD and eats his gun versus a combat person who every day faced the reality of death just inches away 24/7 has true PTSD who commits suicide and lump them all together under the blanket of being a Veteran, percentages of what would be the combat group drops drastically and that of noncombat raises just slightly when combined under the umbrella group of Veterans. Some cover up is good because if true facts of all Veterans, not just VA, Combat versus Noncombat were shown, people would be shocked as to the real percentage of Combat suicides.

    • Hondo says:

      You may be correct. Or you may not be. Without access to verified data, you simply do not know; you’re guessing.

      I say verfied data. The VA is rather notorious for being hoodwinked. Case in point: at one point not too many years ago, well over 1/2 of those considered “POWs” by the VA had never been held captive by any enemy of the US. In about 50% of cases, the VA simply accepted a “bill of goods” given them by an alleged vet (I say “alleged” because the VA has also been documented to have been hoodwinked by a load of non-vets who never served) regarding their “captivity”.

      In short: what you say may or may not be true. Without verifiable data, we don’t know whether it is or not. And although it’s likely the best data available, I’m not sure that the VA’s data is “verifiable”. Their known track record certainly leads one to believe they make few if any attempts at front-end BS screening.

      • Outcast says:

        Verifiable VA data is the crux, you have most likely read my adventures with the VA and their Verifiable data, Their Verifiable data supplied to them by another department (2006) versus those old junk I never threw out here came to a head here on Jan 28 for 2 months of headaches since (due to registering for PTSD and A/O). I have since been thrown out of the fraud/ stolen valor,(enacted 1966) McNamara Moron group and into 30% PTSD/ 10% tinnitus due to their verifiable 3+ more years service and Vietnam Vet status, was in their unread files on hand all the time, went from their 4+ verifiable years to the real 7+ verifiable years I did serve. July 1966 I was on road from Chanute AFB tech school to Luke AFB. Is not only me as another I heard of got upset about his verified 6 years he served, is now verified retired military.

    • MI Ranger says:

      I’m with Hondo, because PTSD aside there are also a very large number of “Combat Veterans” who never went outside the wire, or never fired a shot in anger. There are also a lot of REMF (I happily call myself one even though I went outside the wire a lot) who were in real danger of being killed by rockets and artillery or IEDs or insider attacks. It all depends on how detailed you want to try and get and how relevant you want the data to be.
      And then of course there is also the reason for the suicide…did the infantryman commit suicide because he got stuck behind a desk, and did not by his measure “stare death in the eyes”? Or did the truck driver commit suicide, because he was being asked one more time to drive down “Hell’s Highway” to deliver mail or other requirements to the troops at the outpost? Who can say what makes a man or women decide the burden they are placing on their family by ending it, is less than what they are willing to face by continuing to live?

      • Martinjmpr says:

        And then of course there is also the reason for the suicide

        And you only hit the tip of the iceberg there – when the whole “22 a day” nonsense was being touted endlessly by professional victims and their advocates, some digging revealed that a large number of the “Veteran suicides” were veterans who served a short peacetime hitch (and in many cases not even a full hitch because they either got injured and medically discharged or booted for disciplinary reasons) and then, DECADES later, after years of drug/alcohol abuse, psychological issues and/or legal troubles, took their own life.

        Yet, because they had a DD-214 in their possession, they were classified as ‘veteran suicides’ and the ASSUMPTION was that it was something in their military service that “caused” the suicide even though in most cases there was zero evidence of that.

        It was played up in the media (and continues to be) because it feeds into the cliché of the “veteran-as-victim” that so many people push.

        And sadly, it is some actual veterans themselves who are the worst perpetrators of this myth because it gets them sympathy, money, and allows them to escape responsibility for their despicable actions.

        • Poetrooper says:

          “And sadly, it is some actual veterans themselves who are the worst perpetrators of this myth because it gets them sympathy, money, and allows them to escape responsibility for their despicable actions.”

          I wonder, Jmper, why it is that an image came onto my mind of a certain, dentally-challenged, Democrat activist?

  8. Comm Center Rat says:

    “The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data.” ~ John Tukey, PhD, Mathematician & Founding Chairman of Princeton University’s Statistics Department

  9. 26Limabeans says:

    “You’ll have to ask NPR whether that was done intentionally or via incompetence”


  10. David says:

    Outcast – might maybe be the reason you see more non-combat vets at VA is because the majority of all vets are non-combat?

    Women’s stats – seems to me that prior to the end of Vietnam the number of women in the military was pretty small anyway? That is an impression, not hard fact, but would explain why perhaps it was not worth it to break out a separate group? Look at the contributor list here – a very few women, many many males.

    The stats overall sound as valid as the “kiddie gun deaths” stats the lefties like to push… not mentioning that they include up to 24 year old grown-ass adults as ‘children’ and that something like 3/4 of them are in the 17-24 year old category, most of them gang-bangers and druggies.

    • Hondo says:

      If you look at the actual study datasheets, the data for female 75+ suicides was obviously available for both vets and non-vets. Once I noticed it was there, it took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to extract it and partition the 55+ female age groups into 55-74 and 75+ groups – including actually doing so. And that data seems to be available for every year covered by the study (2005-2016).

      Further, the VA doing that would have allowed a more direct and valid comparison on both the vet and non-vet sides between and within genders. In this case, providing that data explicitly (rather than forcing people to “back it out”) would have added materially to the discussion by showing explicitly that female vets 75+ actually have less of a tendency to commit suicide than female non-vets 75+.

      Finally, the female 75+ population is 7.75% of the female vet population; the 18-34 male population is 8.77% of the male vet population. I wouldn’t call either of those groups “insignificant” from a percentage standpoint when considering male or female vets. Ignoring either group results in ignoring roughly 1 out of every 12 male or 1 out of every 13 female vets.

      When something is (1) quick, easy, and cheap to do, (2) would lend completeness to a project or study, (3) seemingly has no good reason not to occur, but (4) still isn’t done, I wonder why. And I also start thinking about the possible reasons why it wasn’t done.

    • Outcast says:

      Women,Let’s see, Lackland 65, saw some few doing basic there but had their own area, Chanute nada, Luke nada, Phucat, does distant sighting of Doughnut Dollies count, Shaw saw few wandering on base until we were incorporated into central shop and was a couple in front office (definitely not the model type they have today), Forbes, see Shaw, Rhein Main zero nada butcus, might be part of reason I got out in 73.

  11. Ret_25X says:

    I am far more interested in the source of the data.

    First, the VA does not treat all veterans. Not even close. There are many like me who have their own insurance, doctor, etc and find the VA an annoyance to avoid overall.

    Second, the cause of death would literally have to be reported to the VA. Who is reporting suicides to the VA and how? Are coroners nationwide even noting the veteran status for suicides? Both are doubtful in my mind as we all know that the VA will continue to pay benefits to a deceased veteran unless the family reports the death or an audit “finds” the death. If the VA doesn’t know when veterans die normally….

    Third, what is the source of non-veteran suicide data? see the second point for that as well.

    Suicide is a tough subject and frankly, I don’t think anyone has even a clue to the true numbers, rates, propensities, or causes.

    Prevention is a pipe dream until everyone is honest about the data. Perhaps honesty is a pipe dream as well.

    • Hondo says:

      The “Notes” page of the study datasheets indicates data sources. From that Notes page:

      Veteran suicide data was obtained from the joint VA/DoD Suicide Data Repository (SDR) and counts of suicide among the general U.S. population were obtained from CDC Wide-ranging ONline Data for Epidemiologic Research (WONDER).

      The data may not be perfect, but real-world data never is. And those two sources are likely the best sources we’re going to find for vet and non-vet suicide data.

  12. I’ll be hitting 74 in 8 months, so as I am told in my retirement village, age is just a number.And that is the fact Jack, know what I mean Jelly bean.

    • Buckeye Jim says:

      Or, as my son pointed out to me, “Age is just a number, Dad…….in your case, a LARGE number.”

      • Outcast says:

        Jeez he is nice, here, my 3 have gone from old to antique to ancient to relic, haven’t asked lately as might be fossil or maybe skipped over that to older than dirt. Am not even going to ask Grand Daughter’s or great grand son’s.

    • 26Limabeans says:

      I was born in the first half of the previous Century.

      • Outcast says:

        26, now you make me do the math here, oldest GGS turns 12 this year, his mom is 20 years older than him, her mom is 21 years older than her who is 20 years younger than me, 2019 yep was born before middle last century.

      • Poetrooper says:

        Do we have any octogenarians lurking here? I’m just over two years away, having been born five months before Pearl Harbor.

        And I avoid the VA like a liberal cousin, in spite of the fact my throat cancer may well be linked to Agent Orange exposure and the reality that my ears haven’t stopped ringing since all my concussive adventures in Vietnam.

        • 26Limabeans says:

          I signed up for the Agent Orange registry decades ago. No issues yet but I am more concerned about the Radium pellet they used on my head as an infant to remove a Nevus.
          So far just a couple skin cancers that are probably from the sun at the beach as a kid. China Beach. Da Nang.

          I did get about $3100 from Dow Chemical’s settlement so they get a pass from me.

          Hang in there Poe.

          • rgr769 says:

            You musta got some of that sweet, sweet class action settlement money that the lawers didn’t get. Because, in all the class action settlements of which I am aware, the lawers usually get at least 75% of the settlement pot. I shoulda been a class action lawer, then I coulda been a contender for fame and fortune.

  13. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    So another attempt to paint us Veterans as some fragile outcasts goes down the shitpipes, wotta surprise! First it was our Vietnam Vets who were portrayed as being drug-addicted remorseless killers, now they’re trying to do it to us ME Vets.

  14. aGrimm says:

    Hondo – I’ve been saying exactly this for years. Read the freaking statistics you moron MSM! They don’t because it doesn’t fit the narrative that veterans are “damaged goods” – which the left has been pushing since the Vietnam war. When the 22/day meme started, they even tried to say that AD/Reserve/NG service members have higher suicide rates than their peers – which the DoD data refutes in a big way. I believe the VA is complicit in these lies by not making any attempt to refute them or issuing weasel statements that indirectly support the lies. Gee, does one wonder why, when the lies bring in lot of dollars to the VA.

  15. thebesig says:

    I do the same thing. When a study is mentioned, I tend to go toward what the study actually says.

    In every instance I’ve done this, I found that the study itself did not support the article narrative. I even downloaded the PDF for an article that Dave Hardin posted about perceptions about the services… Where the Marines drink the hardest, and the Navy identifies as most LGBT.

    It was 400 pages. Going into the weeds of the methodologies, one found out that not enough of the sample population responded to the survey for the actual results to be an actual reflection of the entire population.

    In other words, those results had to be taken with a grain of salt giving the unknown position of those who did not respond. Granted, not everybody need to respond to a survey to get a relatively close result. However, the researchers did not get to a critical mass. This critical mass would have been needed for them to say that the results were a pretty good representation of the entire population.

    In reality, each of those categories should have been a separate study, and I’m surprised that such a study was allowed to go forward by a review board.

    I posted the results of looking at another study on this website, debunking the myth that 97% of the scientists “agreed” with man-made global warming, a.k.a. “climate change”. The actual study showed that said percentage was pulled out of thin air, that there was no consensus, that the scientists did not even meet each other, and that those who utilized the study initially, in the media, were deceptive in using this study to support their “consensus” narrative.

  16. rgr769 says:

    Thanks Hondo. I knew that the veteran suicide media meme was bullshit. You dug out the data to prove it. We should also keep in mind that even in the stats provided, they include people who claimed some form of military service many decades before they whacked themselves. As we have seen so frequently here with our endless supply of POSers and phonies, there are many who have some service that didn’t amount to squat; and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with a suicide in their 50’s, 60’s, or 70’s. Yet their numbers are undoubtedly in these stats because they are “veterans.”
    We need to remember that the professional bureaucrats and the media pukes that put out this fake veteran suicide “epidemic” meme hate those of us that honorably served in our military. They have been engaged in their torrent of lies for about fifty years now.

    • Hondo says:

      I wouldn’t say the meme is complete BS, rgr769. Based on my so-far somewhat limited review of the data, some categories of vets really do seem to have greater issues regarding suicide than you would expect to see.

      But overall, the media consistently implies that all vets – and most especially elderly vets – are hugely more prone to suicide than the nonvet population. That is simply NOT true; and the data shows that quite clearly and convincingly if anyone bothers to look. My beef is that people who are paid to look . . . don’t. Instead, they seem to ignore obvious reality and parrot the “party line” instead.

      I’m part-way through a follow-up article on the subject, but the next two weeks for me are going to be prety damn busy ones. Hopefully I’ll be able to complete it before things get crazy.

      • rgr769 says:

        I will concede that some poor soul who did three deployments to Iraq and four to A-stan, watched many of his buddies get maimed or killed in action, suffered a TBI and PTSD, and then offed himself is proof some veterans have had service that was a factor in their suicides. But under your stats they are rare, if not non-existent, in the “elderly” age groups. I still say someone who left the service over 20, 30, or 40 plus years ago is not whacking themselves because of something that happened in the military. If our beloved PH2 takes herself out, are we going to say it was because some chief cornered her in a darkroom back in the 1960’s? I don’t believe people harbor psychic injuries for forty years and then decide now it is time for seppuku.

        • Ex-PH2 says:

          Thank you for your kind thoughts, rgr769, but anyone who interrupted me while I was working in a darkroom got nasty chemicals splashed on his precious whites. 🙂

          But you are correct: selficide delayed until very late in life has more to do with a poor quality of life, such as little to no contact with anyone outside the home, than anything else.

          From what I’ve been seeing, a lot of retirees expected to travel extensively, without considering that the world might become an unfriendly place, the way it is now, and it isn’t as easy as it once was. But that does not mean they can’t find plenty to do if they want to. So far, I have visited five unexplored planets several light years from our solar system and expect to do even more in the future, unless those nasty bugs from LV246 show up.

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