Background: American Indian and Alaska Natives (AI/ANs) veterans may be at elevated risk for suicide, but little is known about suicide among this population.
Methods: We conducted a retrospective cohort analysis of AI/AN veterans who received health care services provided or paid for by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) between October 1, 2002, and September 30, 2014, and who were alive as of September 30, 2003. Age-specific and age-adjusted suicide rates through 2018, per 100,000 person-years (PY) at risk and 95% confidence intervals were computed.
Results: Age-adjusted suicide rates among AI/AN veterans in this cohort more than doubled (19.1-47.0/100,000 PY) over the 15-year observation period. In the most recent observation period (2014-2018), the age-adjusted suicide rate was 47.0 per 100,000 PY, with the youngest age group (18-39) exhibiting the highest suicide rate (66.0/100,000 PY). The most frequently used lethal means was firearms (58.8%), followed by suffocation (19.3%), poisoning (17.2%), and other (4.7%).
Conclusions: Results suggest that: (1) suicide is an increasing problem among AI/AN VHA veterans; and (2) younger AI/AN VHA veterans are at particularly high risk and warrant focused prevention efforts. Findings are similar to those observed in general AI/AN population. There is a compelling need to review and strengthen VHA suicide prevention efforts directed towards AI/AN veterans.