And Speaking of Veterans

by wjw on November 13, 2007

Okay, so here’s another hazard the military doesn’t talk about.


“At least 120 Americans who served in the U.S. military killed themselves per week in 2005, CBS News learned in a five-month investigation into veteran suicides. That’s 6,256 veteran suicides in one year, in 45 states.”

6256. In one year. That’s more deaths than the entire Iraq War so far.

The story here.

Maureen McHugh November 13, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Oh my God.

I thought you had made a grammar error when you said 120 per week.

I wish you had.

mushroom7b November 14, 2007 at 3:29 am

Dear Mr. Williams, I am a fan of your work. I’ve meant to comment here in this forum before, but I never seemed to know what to say, at least until today. I was in Korea in 1990 with the 2nd Infantry Division and the Persian Gulf in 1991 with the 101st, and it wasn’t nearly as bad a tour as what these servicepeople are dealing with today.
But, it was bad enough. I think of all the times I have thought about calling it quits,then to hear a statistic like the one you quoted in your post doesn’t surprise me. I’m sure you’ve heard the I-am-writing-a-book thing hundreds of times, and here’s one more. I like your writing, that’s what led me to your blog. I have very little training in writing, so I peruse some of my favorite author’s sites and try to learn a little. Sometimes the writing, the fight to find the words to tell the story is all that has kept me going. Sometimes, I don’t know if I write it to tell the story to others, or just to myself. This is from my work, maybe one day you can read the whole thing. Thanks, Travis Burns.

“It’s like a quicksand of despair, the forces of insanity and suicide are not so easily beaten and you don’t have enough left to put up a fight. To hell with it, you think. One day, hopefully soon, it’ll all be done. Maybe then you won’t hear the screams from down through the ages of wars both present and long past echoing in your mind anymore, or the voices of the millions of dead that were killed in them. Maybe the burnt dead people won’t grin at you anymore in your dreams, and invite you to join them and learn what happened and find that they’re not really grinning at all. They are screaming, a long, never ending scream you hear every day. It’ll be done, all right, you’ll be insane or dead but at least it won’t hurt any more. Maybe it really don’t mean nothin.”

Tarl Neustaedter November 14, 2007 at 4:56 am

There are statistics, and there is sensationalism.

The U.S. overall suicide rate in 2005 was 10.5 per 100,000 – around 30,000. From the figures in the article, it appears that the veteran suicide rate in 2005 was 6256 out of 24.5 million, or a rate of 25 per 100,000. Somewhat over double the civilian rate.

That’s not good, but it’s not as shocking as the original raw number suggested – we’ve long been aware that veterans have a higher suicide rate than civilians.

Veterans are in higher risk categories for a variety of reasons, some of which include their military service and after effects (health, stress, addictions), some of which can include their reasons for joining the military in the first place (e.g., socioeconomic class), some can include the kinds of occupations they tend to gravitate towards after military service (e.g., police work which is also noted as a higher risk category).

As for the military not talking about the risk, I certainly have seen many articles in the past about precisely those risks.

Tarl Neustaedter November 14, 2007 at 5:45 am

A trivial search from a source where I’d seen an article directed at officers to notice the possibility of their subordinates becoming depressed and suicidal:

By the way, I missed a major factor in why veterans commit suicide at a higher rate than civilians. They are overwhelmingly male. Men commit suicide at much higher rates than women.

Mark November 14, 2007 at 3:54 pm

To follow up from Tarl’s point, here is a little bit of number crunching from the Area blog
on Aviation Weekly.

In the US, male veterans outnumber female veterans 13:1. Since four times as many males as women commit suicide in the general population, you’d expect the rate among veterans to be close to the rate among males – 17.6/100,000 per year in 2002 – and indeed it is, if the CBS raw numbers are correct.

CBS also makes an issue of the fact that suicide rates among younger veterans exceed that of the general population by an even bigger margin – but again, that’s what you’d expect, because in that age group, the male-to-female imbalance in suicide rates is greatest, almost six to one.

So the news is that the suicide rates among veterans match up with the suicide rates in the general U.S. population.

Anonymous November 14, 2007 at 10:58 pm

This is WJW. Google is not letting me log in today under my own name. It keeps claiming my email address isn’t working.

Travis— thanks for that post. It was very moving.

Good luck with the writing. Do you have access to a critique group? Do you know about workshops such as Clarion? Writing doesn’t have to be a completely solitary activity.

As for the statistics, I’d like to see them broken down a little farther. Combat veterans vs. pencil-pushers, Iraq vs. Europe, officer vs. enlisted. Taking “veterans” as a single bloc is a little ingenuous, as I doubt a lot of Korean War vets are offing themselves these days; and even “veterans under thirty” is a pretty big tent.

Travis November 15, 2007 at 12:07 am

Hey WJW, this is Travis, thanks for the comment. Guess what, I was also Googleized!(I have adopted OTHER as my nom de plume today) To answer your question, no, I don’t have access to a critique group nor have I been to any workshops. The closest I have gotten to any critiques is from friends reading my stuff, but no writers. Besides, a lot of my friends are in the writing in a subtle way, and I think they might be too close for any objectivity. I have read in your blog about you going to the Taos Toolbox and other writing workshops, and I must say I was curious about the workshop idea and planned to explore it further. I live in North Central Arizona, and when I get a little time I am going to look into finding something like that. I appreciate any insights you might have.
A lot of people might be ashamed about what I’m going to say next, but it is what it is. I only made it to ninth grade, although I did get a GED and attended a little college after I got out in 1991. I took English 101 and felt the world had been opened to me, and one day I just began to write. I feel I need some work on the basics to really be effective as a writer, but the stories will not be denied any longer.
I am an owner operator of a semi truck, I have it leased to a motor carrier in Louisville, Ky. I drive coast to coast which may sound pretty mind numbing, but it gives me a lot of time to work on my stories. I have been by your neck of the Bosque quite a lot, I ran Phoenix-Albuquerque for a few years. With the advent of the Internet and the strides in education opportunity I plan to get to work on those basics soon.
Thanks again for your response, Travis.

dubjay November 18, 2007 at 12:40 am

Hey Travis, give the Online Writers Workshop a try.

I’ve heard good things about it.

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