Arizona Pioneers Plan to Reduce Veteran Suicides

National statistics reveal that about 20 veterans end their lives per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

The state of Arizona is pioneering new policies of suicide prevention with the help of the Department of Veteran Affairs Department and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Data shows that Arizona’s suicide rate for veterans is 54.8 percent per 100,000 people, with Maricopa County’s rate at 54.4 percent.

According to the VA, both rates are higher than the nation’s average of veteran suicides of 38 percent.

The VA said that the largest contributors to the suicide rate are middle-age and older adult veterans. In 2014, about 65 percent of veterans who committed suicide were age 50 or older.

“These findings are deeply concerning, which is why I made suicide prevention my top clinical priority,” said VA Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin.

Dr. Shulkin said he hopes to reduce veteran suicides through support and education.

“We know that of the 20 suicides a day that we reported last year,” he said. “Fourteen are not under VA care. This is a national public health issue that requires a concerted, national approach.”

In response to the high percentage, the city of Phoenix in Maricopa County formed an interagency team of military and civilian leaders from the city and across the state to help develop a strategic plan to increase support and reduce suicide among military service members, veterans and their families.

“As a community, we must do our part to offer help and support for the men and women who have or continue to serve our country, as well as their families, who also make sacrifices,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “Developing a cohesive, strategic response plan will help us work together to know the warning signs and intervene before it’s too late.”

The VA and SAMHSA identified Phoenix as one of the cities that can lead the nation in the first year of their new initiative, called the Mayor’s Challenge.

According to state officials, Arizona already has a statewide suicide prevention plan, Be Connected, but officials said more needed to be done to unify plans on a local level.

“Using Be Connected, we’re already providing suicide prevention support for Arizona’s veterans and their families through early intervention,” said Retired Air Force Col. Wanda Wright, director of Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services Director. “With the Mayor’s Challenge, our interagency team will expand our reach throughout Phoenix and prove how effective the collaborative community approach can be.”

Col. Wright will lead a 21-member interagency team, which includes people from the mayor’s office, police and fire departments, Human Services Department, Military Veterans Commission, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. National Guard and others.

According to the mayor’s office, these members will travel to Washington D.C. to learn about public health policy and also receive assistance from SAMHSA, subject experts, other federal groups, as well as veterans and their families.

After the trip, the interagency team will continue developing its plan, measuring outcomes and submitting reports to the Service Members, Veterans, and their Families Technical Assistance Center.

Mayor Stanton said by putting these goals into action, the city hopes to reduce suicide among veterans, service members and their families.

Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a veteran in crisis, can call the Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, or chat online at, or text to 838255.

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