Why A Commonly Cited Statistic About Veterans' Suicide Is Totally Misleading

Flags veteran suicideCBS News1,892 flags on the National Mall Thursday to commemorate the assumed number of veteran suicides so far this year.

Almost 22 veterans are thought to commit suicide each day, according to a 2012 VA report.

That statistic is tragic, but it doesn’t really represent current veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Close to 72% of veterans are over 50, with this group accounting for 69% of veteran suicides. The majority of veteran suicides are thought to have little to do with military service, according to the LA Times.

Alan Zarembo, of the Los Angeles Times, notes:

Many experts believe that the farther a veteran is from military service, the less likely it is that his or her suicide has anything to do with his or her time in uniform. In other words, many older veterans are killing themselves for the same reasons that other civilians in the same age group kill themselves: depression and other mental health problems coupled with difficult life circumstances.

The Los Angeles Times, extrapolating from the suicide rate of veterans under 35 in California, estimates that roughly 1.5 returning veterans commit suicide daily nationwide. To be sure, more can be done to address mental illness among veterans.

Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.), the first Iraq war veteran to serve in the senate, has introduced legislation called the Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act to increase mental health care for veterans.

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