In March 2020, in an effort to reduce suicide rates among Arizonans, Governor Ducey signed into law a measure, known as Jake’s law, to improve access to mental healthcare in Arizona, especially for youth and the uninsured. The law was named for 15-year-old Jake Machovsky who died by suicide in 2016 after his insurance company denied a request for mental health treatment. One aspect of the new law resulted in the creation of a Suicide Mortality Review Team in the Arizona Department of Health Services as well as a Suicide Action Prevention Plan.
The Suicide Action Prevention Plan is a data-driven initiative that identifies the demographic groups within Arizona’s population that are the most affected by suicide. One demographic group is veterans and the Arizona Coalition for Military Families co-facilitates a workgroup with the Arizona Department of Health Services focused on generating recommendations for the state suicide prevention plan.
In its most recent Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury in Arizona report covering the ten years from 2009 – 2019, ADHS documents that “veteran suicide rates in Arizona are elevated when compared with those in the Arizona general population.” The report indicates that Arizona veterans have a sustained, elevated risk of suicide and that suicide rates among Arizona resident veterans are 2.4 times higher than non-veterans. The report also details that “firearms were consistently the leading mechanism of suicide mortality among veteran residents in Arizona.”
Suicide Mortality Review Team
As part of the Action Plan and in compliance with Jake’s Law, a Suicide Mortality Review Team was established for the state and counties.
Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services Director Col. Wanda Wright serves as part of the statewide Suicide Mortality Review Team. Arizona Coalition for Military Families Project Director Nicola Winkel, MPA, serves on the Maricopa County Suicide Mortality Review Team. These multi-disciplinary teams are charged with reviewing deaths by suicide and generating prevention recommendations.
With Be Connected actively engaged in upstream prevention and risk reduction, it is anticipated that ACMF, ADVS and our partners will be actively involved in implementing some of the prevention recommendations generated by the teams to benefit Arizona veterans and families.
Learning From Loss
Each county’s team is tasked with discovering key data and patterns so that, collectively, their valuable insights and recommendations will be incorporated into the Suicide Action Prevention Plan to inform efforts to provide the right support to Arizona service members and veterans at the right time to prevent suicide. Learning from the loss of Arizona veterans is a somber but very important task that is necessary to help save lives and prevent future suicide deaths.