Veteran Suicide

CASA GRANDE — Military veterans living in Pinal County are twice as likely to die by suicide than their peers in other communities across the state, a recent study found.

Throughout September, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are partnering to share stories and highlight resources available to veterans while working to reduce the stigma surrounding the topic.

People of all backgrounds, genders and ages can experience suicidal thoughts, but veterans are disproportionately impacted, a press release from veteran support organizations said.

Between 2015 and 2017, more than 21% of the state’s suicide victims were military veterans, a study by an Arizona Violent Death Reporting System found.

In Pinal County, 44% of suicides were veterans, the report says.

With a goal of preventing suicide and providing support for veterans, their families and the community, the University of Arizona’s Center for Rural Health partnered with the Arizona Coalition for Military Families to expand the Be Connected veteran support program in rural southern Arizona counties, including Pinal County, the release said.

Be Connected is a statewide program that aims to reduce deaths by suicide in Arizona’s military and veteran population by providing support and resources for the more than 500,000 service members, veterans and their families in Arizona. Both the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs are partners and supporters of the program, according to the press release.

The program coordinates with health care facilities in the region and provides resources and community training to help facilities better serve the veteran community. It includes a support line available to everyone seeking support and information.

Be Connected works with more than 400 partner organizations statewide to provide tools and information to support the physical and mental health of veterans and provide crisis intervention.

It is working to expand the program in Pinal County as well as Cochise, La Paz, Gila and Santa Cruz counties through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona’s Mobilize AZ public health initiative, the press release said.

“Through Mobilize AZ, BCBSAZ is tackling the health conditions hitting Arizonans the hardest, including mental health, providing grants to organizations doing life-changing work in their communities,” the press release said. “Protecting the health and well-being of Arizona families is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The program has adapted to the pandemic with an offering of online trainings and providing program materials to COVID-19 testing sites and other locations.

“These efforts provide the opportunity to bring new veterans into the ecosystem and allow for better care coordination crucial to suicide prevention. By embedding support deep in the community, the program can intervene earlier and more effectively to save lives,” the press release said.

In 2017, the Arizona Veteran Survey found that an estimated 41% of Arizona veterans reported thoughts of suicide, and one in three reported a mental health condition related to depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Arizona Veterans Survey questioned nearly 5,000 veterans and family members across the state. About 7% of survey respondents were from Pinal County.

Among the top concerns for veterans, according to the survey, were finding quality employment, physical health concerns and finances. One in three veterans and their family members did not know of at least one number to call to get help in a time of crisis, according to the survey.

About half of all respondents said they knew a service member or veteran who had died by suicide and one in three said they knew of someone who needed help but did not know where to get it.

One in three Arizona veterans have had traumatic experiences, putting them at higher risk for chronic physical and mental health conditions, according to the survey.

To reach the Be Connected support line, call 1-866-4AZ-VETS (429-8387).

Veterans with suicidal thoughts may find the phone number for veterans services posted on the door of the Honoring, Hiring, Helping Our Heroes of Pinal County’s front door at 318 N. Florence St. in Casa Grande or posted on its website, www.hohp4heroes.org.

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Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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