PHOENIX – One in five suicide victims in Arizona were veterans, according to new ASU study of suicides from 2015 through 2019.
Veteran suicide rates have historically surpassed those of civilians, but the numbers are worse for Arizona, where veterans can face barriers to physical and mental health providers.
Veterans were roughly two times more likely to die by suicide than their non-veteran counterparts, according to Charles Katz, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and director for the Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.
Katz, who was part of the research team, said veterans are more likely to suffer from physical trauma before dying by suicide.
“Veterans who commit suicide are substantially more likely to have had a significant physical health problem prior to their suicide,” Katz said. “This could have occurred as a consequence of being at war, whether it was in Iraq, Afghanistan, or it could even have been a prior war, such as Vietnam.”
Researchers from the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety and the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System conducted the study, which reflects national and state trends. A study two years ago of Arizona suicides produced almost identical results.
The study recorded a total of 6,175 suicides from 2015 through 2019, of which veteran status was available for 6,066 individuals.
In addition to physical trauma, veterans are more likely to experience “life stressors” before suicide, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Although both males and female veterans were at notably higher risk of dying by suicide than non-veterans, overall suicide rates were higher for males, especially young white males.
“Veterans that are between the ages 18 and 34 are at significantly higher risk to commit suicide than veterans at almost any age group,” Katz said. “We think that individuals involved in recent conflicts are much more likely to have experienced a physical health injury or engage in some sort of life stressor.”
Mohave County had the highest veteran suicide rate, at 78.3 per 100,000 population, followed by Yavapai County and Coconino County. Located in rural areas, they lack many veteran services that other areas have, Katz said.
“There are fewer resources available to the folks within these counties, in terms of outreach, in terms of support they can receive for a number of issues that veterans encounter,” Katz said.
Veterans also are less likely to have attempted suicide in the past compared with non-veterans, he said, which may make it more difficult for them to receive help.
“There isn’t that same warning or time that loved ones have to be able to respond to the crisis in the same way that non-veterans might be able to,” Katz said.
Luke Fadell, the veteran and military family services coordinator at Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona and a veteran, said military culture may contribute to a reluctance to reach out for help when needed.
“When I was in the Army, it was sort of the ‘suck it up, buttercup, keep moving’ kind of thing,” Fadell said, adding that organizations, advocates and peers must consider this when speaking with a veteran who may need help.
“You really do have to take that into consideration, being able to connect with that veteran and that service member to say, ‘Hey, it is OK to say I’m not OK.’” Fadell said.