Monday, December 22nd, 2014

PolitiFact New Jersey revisits claims on veterans, missing service members

PolitiFact New Jersey has analyzed claims on veterans and missing service members from past wars.
PolitiFact New Jersey has analyzed claims on veterans and missing service members from past wars.

While Americans pause today to remember those who served our nation, PolitiFact New Jersey is revisiting past stories on statements related to veterans and missing service members.

As with any other fact-checks, these claims have sent the Truth-O-Meter swinging in both directions. But they’ve also revealed some troubling statistics, such as the number of veterans committing suicide and the number of missing service members from past wars.

So, however you’re spending this Memorial Day, here’s some fact-checks to consider on this day of remembrance.

Homeless veterans

Our latest fact-check on veterans’ issues comes out of the battle for a congressional seat in south Jersey. U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican, is preparing to face Democratic challenger Shelley Adler in this fall’s general election to represent the state’s third congressional district.

In a recent TV interview, Adler charged that Runyan voted to "end programs to aid homeless veterans."

PolitiFact New Jersey found that Runyan voted in February 2011 for a budget appropriations bill that did not fund 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans. But the bill maintained funding for roughly 30,000 vouchers issued in previous years.

Runyan later voted for another bill that included funding for new vouchers.

We gave Adler a False.

Veteran suicides

Several months ago, we looked into a disturbing statistic cited by U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, a Democrat, representing New Jersey’s 12th congressional district.

"Before this day is out, 18 more veterans will have taken their own lives," Holt said in a December 2011 news release.

That statistic was confirmed in a Dec. 15, 2007 e-mail exchange between Dr. Ira R. Katz, deputy chief officer of Mental Health Services at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Dr. Michael J. Kussman, then the under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, which is part of the VA.

The actual number of veteran suicides isn’t known, but the average of 18 per day is the best estimate, according to the VA.

Jeremy Willinger, director of communications and marketing for the Mental Health Association of New York City, told PolitiFact New Jersey that suicide factors for veterans are similar to those for nonveterans.

"In the general population, suicide risk factors include male gender, older age, diminished support (e.g. homelessness or unmarried status), availability of firearms, and co-occurring physical and mental conditions," Willinger said in an e-mail. "This profile describes a large portion of the veteran population."

Holt received a True.

Missing service members

Besides veterans, the issue of service members missing from past wars also has come before the Truth-O-Meter.

Last summer, we fact-checked then-state Assemblyman Jack Conners’ claim that "almost 88,000 United States service members are still missing and unaccounted for, dating back to World War II."

Conners received a Mostly True, because the number of missing and unaccounted for from World War II had been recently lowered.

According to the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office within the U.S. Department of Defense, the number of service members still unaccounted for at the time stood at 83,601, including: 73,792 from World War II, 7,997 from the Korean War, 125 from the Cold War and 1,687 from the Vietnam War.

The latest data shows that the number hasn’t changed much. As of May 23, there were 83,435 service members unaccounted for, including: 73,681 from World War II, 7,956 from the Korean War, 126 from the Cold War, and 1,666 from the Vietnam War.

To comment on this story, go to NJ.com.