Sixty-thousand veterans have committed suicide over the past decade. Between 2008 and 2017, our nation lost more service members at home than in active war zones. Sadly, a majority of those veterans who took their own lives died in the same way their brothers and sisters did on the battlefield — by a firearm.
Firearm-related veteran suicides is an epidemic that lies beneath the surface of the national discourse, but it affects us all. As communities across the nation feel the pain of this issue, they are asking their elected officials to find and address its root causes. And, as we enter the upcoming 2020 election cycle, veteran suicides have become a key issue for a substantial number of voters.
For example, in my home state of Arizona, which is home to 500,000 veterans, 228 veterans committed suicide in 2017 and over 79 percent of those veterans used a firearm to end their life. Given these sobering numbers, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that voters across Arizona are worried about this alarming trend.
It’s not just Arizona; other states are feeling the impact of this issue as well. In Colorado, the latest report shows that 149 veterans in the state committed suicide in 2017; and 66 percent of those veterans used a firearm, which is 15 percent higher than the civilian rate of firearm-related suicides. In Iowa, 66 veterans committed suicide in 2017 and nearly 70 percent of them used a firearm.
What’s happening in states like Arizona, Colorado and Iowa is representative of a widening epidemic that is unfortunately taking shape nationwide, driving many people to demand action from their congressional representatives.
However, in order to get to the source of this problem, we need more information. And sadly, as it currently stands, due to a lack of national funding for the necessary research surrounding this issue, we do not have the required data and facts to unpack the relationship between firearms and veteran suicides. Without that necessary data, we can’t solve this issue.
Fortunately, there are members of Congress who are supportive of this funding. In fact, the House of Representatives recently allocated $50 million for gun violence research at the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And in the Senate, Sen. Johnny Isakson introduced legislation that calls for allocating $75 million a year in funding for researching gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control.
But more needs to be done by our elected officials.
Congressional leaders who are in the media spotlight and are facing competitive reelection races in states where this issue hits home, like Sen. Martha McSally and Sen. Cory Gardner, who hold strong records on veterans’ issues, have a unique opportunity to publicly highlight the importance of Congress solving this epidemic.
Without funding from Congress for data-driven research, it is impossible to determine the correct avenue for reducing firearm-related veteran suicides. We need data-driven research that won’t just be funded for a series of months, but for years. Simply put, this issue will require time and effort to solve and Congress should provide the funding to do it.
As America continues to debate solutions for dealing with gun violence, now is the time for Washington to act and to provide the long-term funding towards fact-based research, which is necessary to find the connection between veteran suicide and firearms. This research can help find the necessary solutions to this problem. This isn’t a Republican or Democratic issue, but rather one that affects every American. By working together, we can finally put an end to this unfortunate epidemic.
• Robert Graham is the former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party. He has served as a senior adviser and surrogate of the 2016 Donald J. Trump for President Campaign.