Nevada’s veteran suicide rate remains staggering

One Nevada veteran commits suicide about every three days.

The suicide rate for veterans in the Silver State has remained significantly high since the release of a 2012 report that was a “call to action” to address “an epidemic” evident in the staggering figures, according to a recent state followup on the issue.

Forty-seven veterans for every 100,0000 commit suicide in the state, compared to 23 people for every 100,000 in the general population, according to 2011-13 death records data in the new report.

“Revisiting an Epidemic: Suicide Mortality in Nevada’s Military Veterans, Service Members and Their Families” was produced by Luana J. Ritch, a quality assurance specialist with the state’s Division of Public and Behavioral Health.

Preliminary death records data for 2013 was included in the report. Preliminary data for 2014 is expected to become available in the fall, Ritch said.

“We still have a lot of issues,” Ritch said Tuesday. “There is a hesitancy to want to seek care… There’s just a lot that goes into these numbers.”

The number are not much different from those in the 2012 report. There were 320 veteran suicide deaths in the state from 2011 to 2013. That represents a decrease of 64 deaths from the previous period when there were 384 veteran suicide deaths from 2008 to 2010.

In 2012, the Nevada veteran suicide rate was 74 percent higher than the national rate of 12 deaths per 100,000. That statistic was not calculated in this year’s report, but the national rates have also increased in recent years.

“It still remains relatively high,” Ritch said of the Nevada rate.

The highest percentage of veteran suicides in the state occurred among those 55 and older, according to the report. There are many factors that may contribute to that higher percentage such as disability, independent living, health and personal finances.

“Disability and general health are important concerns for veterans in that a higher percentage of veterans have a disability than the general population,” the study reads. “Among disabled veterans, 68 percent are disabled by a service-connected condition.”

Some veterans are connecting to services they need, but others are not, said Kat Miller, director of the Nevada Department of Veterans Services.

“One of the great challenges is connecting Nevada veterans to the services and opportunities that their services to the nation has earned them,” she said Tuesday. “This is especially challenging in our rural and frontier communities.”

But there’s a new initiative to help with that problem — the Nevada Veterans Advocate program, Miller said. It’s a free online training program that leads to certification as a Nevada veterans advocate, who can then help veterans in their community access benefits they are entitled to receive.

There is a confidential veteran crisis line that state officials would like to encourage veterans in crisis, their families and friends to call if they are in need of help. That number is 1-800-273-8255.

“Help is available,” Miller said. “The challenge is identifying those who need this help and getting them to the right resources to address their needs.”

The Nevada Women Veterans Advisory Committee was created through an executive order by Gov. Brian Sandoval in 2014. Earlier this month, the committee submitted a report to Sandoval with recommendations.

One of them is a call for Nevada to do a better job in identifying women veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated the female veteran population in the Silver State to be 21,362, but the state’s Department of Veterans Services has only identified about 2,500 women veterans in the state, which accounts for only 11.7 percent of the estimated total.

Caleb Cage, director of military and veterans policy with Sandoval’s office, didn’t return calls seeking comment.

In 2013, Sandoval also established the Veterans Suicide Prevention Council through executive order to replace the Veterans Suicide Prevention Task Force to address veteran suicides.

A year ago, the council submitted its first report to Sandoval with recommendations to help reduce suicide among veterans in the state.

Among the recommendations: Require the state’s Department of Veterans Services to provide suicide prevention information to service members, veterans and their families based on data shared by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Cathy McAdoo, who is on the council, said the overall issue is complex.

“Unfortunately, it’s not an issue that happened overnight, and therefore, it’s not an issue that will be resolved overnight,” she said Tuesday.

McAdoo, who lives in Elko, said a veterans resource center opened in October at Great Basin College, and it’s been busy. Veterans are able to come in for support and they are able to connect with other veterans as well.

The local community is stepping up and it’s taking small steps to address the issue, she explained. It’s not only a problem for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to tackle.

“It’s a problem in my neighborhood where I live,” she added.

Contact Yesenia Amaro at yamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.

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