The band Five Finger Death Punch has had close ties to the U.S. military for years. Previous music videos have featured images of soldiers struggling through life in a combat zone, and they have performed overseas for the troops on numerous occasions.
Their latest project takes on a related social issue. Released this week, the video for the song “Wrong Side of Heaven” casts a spotlight on veteran homelessness. It already has been viewed online more than 1 million times.
Watch it here:
The statistics flashed across the screen are stark, and draw attention to an important issue. But are they accurate? Checkpoint decided to investigate. Among the claims:
Statement: “While you are watching this… there are 300,000 homeless veterans sleeping in our streets… and this number is rising.”
Facts: This number appears to be high — but the problem is real.
The U.S. Department for Housing and and Urban Develop estimates that there were 57,849 veterans on the streets on any given night in 2013, according to this report. That number is significant, but it is actually down from 2010, when there were about 76,329 homeless on a given night. An official with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans says it uses HUD’s estimates.
Statement: “While you are watching this… a soldier doesn’t understand why he is so easily discarded… yet he keeps fighting on.”
Facts: Overall, this sentiment was echoed in The Washington Post’s “After the Wars” series that ran earlier this year. Fifty-five percent of veterans feel disconnected from civilian life, according to data collected for the series through a poll run by The Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The number jumps to 64 percent for those who served in a combat zone — essentially two out of every three veterans.
Statements: “While you are watching this, a veteran is losing his family,” and “Divorce rate among military couples has increased 42 percent.”
Facts: Military service is a well-known stress on marriages. The tricky part of the 42 percent increase cited in the video, however, is that no years are given.
A 2012 news release from the FamilyLife and Military Ministry uses that exact figure, stating that “divorce rate among military couples has increased 42 percent since the Afghanistan–Iraq wars began in 2001.” The news release does not cite a specific study, however.
A study conducted by the Rand Corporation, an independent think tank, on behalf of the Pentagon found last year that the more months a service member was deployed cumulatively, the more likely he or she was to divorce upon returning. The risk of divorce was even high for troops pulling combat tours, rather than assignments in non-hostile areas.
Statement: “An estimated 460,000 veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder — PTSD.”
Facts: Estimates in that neighborhood are cited regularly. A VA study said that as of June 30, 2012, 256,820 of the 1.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had been seen in VA facilities for potential post-traumatic stress issues. But that figure takes into account only the most recent conflicts.
On its website, the VA states that experts believe that between 11 and 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, 10 percent of Gulf War veterans and 30 percent of Vietnam War veterans have PTSD. Those numbers can be difficult to parse, however, because some service members served in multiple conflicts.
Statement: “Homeless vets spend an average of 6 years on the streets.”
Facts: This stat is on-point. According to a VA survey released in November 2011, homeless veterans said they were homeless for an average of 5.77 years. Homeless non-veterans were on the streets for about 3.92 years, the study found.
Statement: “The Veterans administration have resources to serve only a fraction of our veterans.”
Facts: A fact-check on a recent speech by President Obama states that VA funding has jumped from $97.7 billion in 2009 to $163.9 billion in 2015. Nevertheless, the agency has been mired in scandal this year, amid questions about veterans being put on secret lists to mask long wait times for medical appointments.
Obama signed a new, $16.3 billion bill this month that will allow veterans to seek care from a civilian doctor if they have waited more than 30 days for an appointment at the VA. That has been criticized by some budget watchdogs, but a backlog still exists. New VA Secretary Robert McDonald said this week that the number of referrals the VA has made to private doctors recently is up significantly to address the problem.
Statement: “In the time you were watching this video… a veteran somewhere took his own life… nearly 5,000 veterans die by their own hands every year.”
Facts: That number may actually be low. As this ABC News report points out, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America organization suggested earlier this year that 22 veterans per day took their own lives each day in 2009 and 2010, based on numbers in a 2012 VA report. They planted 1,892 U.S. flags on the National Mall in Washington late in March to symbolize the veteran suicides they estimated already had occurred in 2014.
Twenty-two suicides per day would equate to about 8,000 per year.
UPDATE: 10:30 a.m.: A friend of Checkpoint points out that there are a couple other factual issues with the music video, especially in the credits at the end. For one, the band lists the Armed Forces Network as an organization that can be called to help veterans. That’s nonsensical — AFN is the network run for deployed U.S. troops, and carries a variety of U.S. programming with public service announcements instead of paid advertising.
UPDATE: 1:20 p.m.: This post has been updated to provide newer numbers on homeless veterans.