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Special Report: 7 veterans commit suicide every 10 days in Arizona

The Daily Courier file photo

The Daily Courier file photo

By Scott Orr

Special to Verde Valley Newspapers

Between January 2015 and June 2016 — an 18-month period — 393 veterans committed suicide in Arizona, according to a report issued by the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System on Thursday, Nov. 10.

And, although the study does not provide hard numbers on Yavapai County, it does show that the suicide rate for veterans in the county is 76.2 per 100,000, which is slightly higher than the average rate statewide.

Some of the smaller counties have higher rates, with La Paz recording 146.3 suicides per 100,000, and Maricopa and Pima counties coming in just below Yavapai County, with 75.8 and 72.0, respectively.

The goal of the study is to aggregate data from county medical examiners and law enforcement to help detect trends in veteran suicides, and also homicides, with an eye toward preventing them in the future, said David Choate, associate director of the Arizona State University Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

The most surprising factor the study uncovered, Choate said, was “the risk of being a homicide victim for female veterans. The female veterans were more than twice as likely to be a homicide victim as non-veteran female victims in Arizona.”

Choate said researchers will be monitoring that figure closely as the study continues.

“It was something completely unexpected in our findings,” he said, noting that other states doing similar surveys did not report similar results among female veterans.

The survey is still relatively new, and Choate said he would be more comfortable with the findings a year from now, when the group would have about 30 months’ worth of data.

“Those numbers are way too high (when there’s help available),” said Nicholas Wood, Prescott site director for Veterans Resource Centers of America. “We, as a nation, have done a decent job of putting veteran suicide at the forefront of veteran talking points. What we haven’t done is a great job of de-stigmatizing treatment for PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety, and the myriad other issues that may come after a stint in the military.

“There is no shame in asking for help and talking to professionals,” Wood added.

He said that this country’s veterans are very self-reliant, but in the case of symptoms that lead to suicide, they need to understand that it’s not something they can necessarily fix alone.

“This is one thing that a veteran should not feel like they have to do on their own,” Wood said.

“We know that veterans are about three-and-a-half times the risk for suicide (as the general population),” Choate said. “The problem is real.”

Follow Scott Orr on Twitter @AZNewsguy.

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