Lawrence: solving the veteran suicide crisis in Arizona begins with accurate statistics

We can all agree that we have a crisis in terms of the rising number of veteran suicides. But when it comes to defining the scope of the problem, there are challenges. That’s because we have no state law on compiling veteran suicides.

Jay Lawrence

Twenty-two states have such a law and I have proposed legislation for Arizona to do the same.

In July, I had the pleasure of meeting the family and friends of U.S. Army Ranger Antouine Castaneda who tragically took his own life three years ago. His family says Antouine would be alive today had he received the care he needed from the Phoenix Veterans Administration.

As the federal government works to right the wrongs of the past in terms of veterans’ services, we can take action on a state level.

That’s why I have proposed legislation that would require the Arizona Department of Health Services to track and compile statistics on veteran suicides working with law enforcement, county coroners, and as needed researchers from Arizona State University who have published some eye-opening studies.

Nearly a year ago, an Arizona State University study concluded veterans are nearly four times more likely to take their lives compared to non-veterans in our state. But a 2016 report from the VA claimed veterans were just 22 percent more likely to commit suicide compared to civilians. That’s a big disparity.

With accurate statistics, we can make a strong case for getting the resources we need from the federal government as well as applying state resources to suicide prevention.

In the interest of bi-partisanship, I sincerely hope to gather support for this bill from Republicans and Democrats when the Arizona Legislature goes into session. Until then, I would like to hear from candidates on both sides of the aisle in both state and federal races. Perhaps they can come together and endorse this bill as a show of unity.

I am a proud conservative who realizes that some issues can and should cross party lines. This is one of them.

Perhaps if there were better data on veteran suicides three years ago, Antouine might still be with us. Perhaps not. There are no easy answers on this issue. That doesn’t mean we stop asking questions, such as how big is this problem and where to allocate resources.

Editor’s note: Mr. Lawrence is a member of Arizona House of Representatives seeking re-election in District 23 this November

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