CBS ‘Early Show’: Veteran Suicide Rates ‘Shockingly High’

Tuesday’s CBS "Early Show" featured a segment on a recent Veteran’s Affairs report that outlined "an alarming suicide rate among veterans," according to co-host Julie Chen. Reporter Armen Keteyian then previewed an upcoming "Evening News" segment on the findings and shared the stories of particular veterans who served in Iraq:

Staff Sergeant Justin Reyes spent a violent year serving in Iraq...Medical records show Justin suffered severe psychological trauma after witnessing "multiple dead" and having to "sort through badly mutilated bodies." Earlier this year, one month after separating from the Army, Justin hanged himself with a cord in his apartment, at just 26...families recently sat down to talk about losing loved ones, all veterans of Iraq, to suicide...Mia Sagahon's boyfriend, Walter, shot himself at age 27 about a year and a half after he came back from Iraq.

Keteyian got a response from Democratic Senator, Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on the issue: "That's a lot of young men and women who've gone to fight for us, who've come home and found themselves that lost."

Toward the end of the segment, Chen explained that "the Department of Veterans Affairs says that approximately this year 5,000 veterans will commit suicide, largely because of mental health issues...This sounds shockingly high. That's like 100 a week." Based upon the preceding segment, one would assume that high number referred to Iraq veterans, however, according to a May 10 Associated Press article, actually featured on cbsnews.com, the report said, "about 1,000 veterans who receive VA care commit suicide every year and as many as 5,000 a year among all living veterans." So Chen took the absolute maximum estimate as fact and did not clarify that it applied to all veterans.

While Chen never specified the 5,000 figure to Iraq, the segment clearly identified Iraq as a leading cause for the deaths. In reality, according to an October 31 Associated Press article, "A total of 147 troops have killed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan since the wars began...Add the number of returning veterans and the finding is that at least 430 of the 1.5 million troops who have fought in the two wars have killed themselves over the past six years."

These deaths are certainly just as tragic, but according to the same Associated Press story, "Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's deputy chief patient care service officer for mental health, said there does not appear to be an epidemic of suicides among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who left the military." Compare that quote of Dr. Katz with this one by Keteyian during the "Early Show" segment: "And actually, I interviewed the person that did it, Dr. Ira Katz, who's the head of mental health for the V.A., and he described it as a back of the envelope estimate. And I can tell you Julie, our numbers are much higher than that overall." Which one is it? Clearly CBS was going for a much more alarmist story.

Here is the full transcript of the segment:

JULIE CHEN: In our Health Watch this morning, for some of America's 25 million veterans, their biggest fight isn't on the battlefield, but here at home. CBS News Investigative Correspondent Armen Keteyian with the story of an alarming suicide rate among veterans.

CARLOS REYES: His exact words is, your son has died.

KETEYIAN: Staff Sergeant Justin Reyes spent a violent year serving in Iraq. Gene Willis and Carlos Reyes are his parents.

GENE WILLIS: The war didn't end for him when he came home.

KETEYIAN: Medical records show Justin suffered severe psychological trauma after witnessing multiple dead and having to sort through badly mutilated bodies. Earlier this year, one month after separating from the Army, Justin hanged himself with a cord in his apartment, at just 26.

WILLIS: I think he was being tormented and tortured by his experiences.

KETEYIAN: Gene Willis and members of four other families recently sat down to talk about losing loved ones, all veterans of Iraq, to suicide. Is there any sense that they were having problems at all?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN (MOTHER OF VETERAN WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE): I said what's the matter, Tim, I said, don't you want to come home? And he said, 'I'm not sure.' He said, 'everything's changed.' He said 'I'm not the same person anymore.'

KETEYIAN: Mia Sagahon's boyfriend, Walter, shot himself at age 27 about a year and a half after he came back from Iraq.

MIA SAGAHON: I just didn't realize. I didn't think he was thinking about killing himself. Otherwise, I would have taken him wherever he needed to go.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN B (MOTHER OF VETERAN WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE): You know, I think that's what the families are left with, the guilt of what we could have done or what we should have done.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN (FATHER OF VETERAN WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE): Guilt and anger.

KETEYIAN: No one had ever counted just how many suicides there are nationwide among those who have served in the military until now. A five-month CBS News investigation, based upon a detailed analysis of data obtained from death records in 2004 and 5 found this -- overall, veterans were more than twice as likely to commit suicide in 2005 as non vets. Part of a set of numbers that stunned everyone from Senator Patty Murray –

PATTY MURRAY (D-Wash.): That's a lot of young men and women who've gone to fight for us, who've come home and found themselves that lost.

KETEYIAN: To veteran rights advocate, Paul Sullivan.

PAUL SULLIVAN: This is pulling the fire alarm to say our veterans need help now.

CHEN: Joining me now, Armen Keteyian. Armen, this report out by the Department of Veterans Affairs says that approximately this year 5,000 veterans will commit suicide, largely because of mental health issues.

KETEYIAN: Yeah.

CHEN: This sounds shockingly high. That's like 100 a week.

KETEYIAN: It is. And actually, I interviewed the person that did it, Dr. Ira Katz, who's the head of mental health for the V.A., and he described it as a back of the envelope estimate. And I can tell you Julie, our numbers are much higher than that overall.

CHEN: And you'll have more tonight on the Evening News.

KETEYIAN: Much more tonight on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.

CHEN: Armen Keteyian, thanks so much.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC