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Phoenix launching interagency initiative to prevent veteran suicide

In this June 21, 2013, file photo, the seal affixed to the front of the Department of Veterans Affairs building in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

PHOENIX — Phoenix officials are launching an interagency push to reduce suicide among military service personnel, veterans and their families.

Mayor Greg Stanton’s office said the initiative aims to increase support and develop a response plan for detection of warning signs and timely intervention.

“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,” Stanton said in a release.

“Developing a cohesive, strategic response plan will help us work together to know the warning signs and intervene before it’s too late.”

Stanton’s office said the initiative is sponsored by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Both departments identified Phoenix as one of the cities that could lead the way nationally in the first year of the Mayor’s Challenge.

The suicide rate for veterans in Arizona is 54.8 per 100,000 people, with Maricopa County’s rate at 54.4, according to the Arizona Violent Death Reporting System. The national average of 38 suicides, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to Stanton’s office, there needs to be a unified plan on the local level though Arizona has a statewide plan for suicide prevention and several agencies have their own models or response plans.

A 21-member interagency team will develop a plan after traveling to Washington from March 14 to 16 to learn about public health policy and receive assistance from federal officials and others.

The state’s current plan for suicide prevention, Be Connected, already provides support for veterans and their families through early intervention, Retired Air Force Col. Wanda Wright, the Arizona Department of Veterans’ services director, said in a press release.

“With the Mayor’s Challenge, our interagency team will expand our reach throughout Phoenix and prove how effective the collaborative community approach can be.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

KTAR News 92.3