Veteran Suicide: Methodology

cbs news investigates
When CBS News began looking into veteran suicide, it found that no federal organization or agency tracks the number of veteran suicides nationally. No one is keeping count. We wanted to know how many veterans are committing suicide nationwide and how the rate of suicide for veterans compares to non-veterans. This is a summary of the methodology and results of the data that appeared in this CBS Evening News investigation.


Over the course of five months, CBS News contacted state vital statistics offices in all 50 states asking them to provide all of their suicide data from 1995 to 2005. The vital statistics offices have access to suicide data from death certificates.

Forty-five states provided us with raw suicide numbers for the years 2004 and 2005. Of those, forty states provided us "cross classified" resident suicide data which we used to statistically calculate rates of suicide for the entire country. ("Cross-classified" is the type of format necessary to run adjusted rates of suicide.)

We asked the acting head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Georgia, Steve Rathbun, to calculate the rate of suicide for 2004 to 2005. Rathbun adjusted the rates of suicide for age, gender and any potential error in the gathering of the raw data by the states. The results reflect that potential margin of error by showing a range in the rates of suicide among veterans.

Veteran population numbers were obtained by CBS News from the Department of Veterans Affairs and general population numbers came from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Results for 2004
Overall Rates
Veterans: 17.5 to 21.8 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 9.4 per 100,000

Male Rates
Veterans: 30.6 to 38.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 18.3 per 100,000

Female Rates
Veterans: 10.0 to 12.5 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 4.8 per 100,000

Results for 2005
Overall Rates
Veterans: 18.7 to 20.8 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 8.9 per 100,000

Male Rates
Veterans: 31.5 to 35.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 17.6 per 100,000

Female Rates
Veterans: 11.1 to 12.3 per 100,000
Non-Veterans: 4.5 per 100,000