People who have served in the United States military commit suicide at more than twice the rate of the civilian population, according to a report released by News21 this week.
Journalists looked at the data on a state-by-state basis and found that 49,000 veterans killed themselves between 2005 and 2011, with the veteran suicide rate increasing more than 2 percent each year during that time. The project found one out of five people who commit suicide is a veteran.
Veterans in California and Texas committed suicide nearly three times as often as civilians. In Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada, veterans committed suicide more than twice as often. And the rates of veteran suicides are growing in the Southwest.
California showed an increase of more than 4 percent in veteran suicides over the study years, while Nevada saw an increase of more than 3 percent. Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico's veteran suicide rates are growing at a slower pace, around 1 percent.
The challenge with measuring veteran suicides is that the data has largely been unreliable or non-existent. There may be death certificates that don't indicate if a person is a veteran, or causes of death that don't indicate suicide. There is also no data on how many veterans have been deported to Mexico and may have killed themselves in that country.
Congress required the Department of Veterans Affairs to increase suicide prevention efforts in 2007, and last year the department released a report indicating an effort to increase the amount of information that could be used to assess veteran suicide trends. Since then, the VA has received more than 800,000 calls on a Veterans Crisis Hotline.
Native Americans, who represent a significant segment of the population in the Southwest, have the highest rates of suicide in the nation, and it doesn't help that many Native American veterans often struggle to gain access to the benefits they earned while serving in the military, including mental health care.
There are specific signs people can learn to recognize that indicate someone may be considering suicide.