Veterans make up 20% of suicide victims in Arizona, ASU study finds

Nov 11, 2021, 4:35 AM
(File photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)...
(File photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(File photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — An Arizona State University study released Tuesday found veterans made up 20% of suicide deaths in the state from 2015 to 2019.

The data was collected from multiple sources, including death certificates issued by the Arizona Department of Health Services, police reports, and death investigation and autopsy reports from medical examiner offices.

A sample of 6,066 suicides in Arizona between Jan. 1, 2015, and Dec. 31, 2019, was studied by the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

It was found that overall suicide rates per 100,000 population were higher for both men and women veterans compared to non-veteran counterparts, and that male veterans were much more at risk (52.2) compared to women veterans (21.8).

“We know that veterans who commit suicide are at significantly higher risk of physical health problems or experiencing physical health problems prior to suicide,” Charles Katz, director of the center and professor at the ASU School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

He added a third of veterans who committed suicide had a substantial physical health problem prior to their suicide.

“We know they experience significantly higher rates of life stressors, not more traditional relationship issues, not necessarily job issues, but just sort of life stressors which can be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder,” Katz said.

What concerns Katz is that veterans are much less likely to have a history of suicide.

“Oftentimes when non-veterans engage in suicide, they’ve had repeated attempts in the past,” Katz said. “We don’t see that same phenomenon with veterans.

“Oftentimes when they make the decision to engage in a suicide, it’s fatal. We don’t have the same warning signs that perhaps we do with non-veterans.”

Another finding of the study that surprised Katz was the high veteran suicide rate between the ages of 18 and 34, which was found to be 75.9 per 100,000 population by age group. The number decreased in middle age groups before ticking back up with the 75 and older veteran population.

The study also found notable differences in suicide rates per 100,000 population across racial and ethnic groups, with white veterans being the most at-risk (56.3) followed by Black veterans (25.5) and Hispanic veterans (22.2).

While celebrating Veterans Day on Thursday, Katz asks people to think about how they can assist a loved one who is a veteran that may be going through a difficult time.

The study found 78.1% of veteran suicides occurred at a house or an apartment, and that 78.8% used a firearm as the method.

Katz recommends if people know a veteran who is going through a tough time and they have a gun to consider having a conversation with the veteran and removing the gun for at least a short period of time until some worries can be addressed.

“We know that’s a hard decision but we know that vets are significantly more likely to commit suicide at home with a gun, which makes it much more difficult to intervene compared to other populations,” he said.

Katz has no doubt suicides increased significantly in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic but the data is still being worked through and finalized.

He said the difference in suicides last year between veterans and non-veterans has yet to be looked at but Katz hopes to look at that some time after the new year.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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Veterans make up 20% of suicide victims in Arizona, ASU study finds