High Suicide Rate

Another area of concern for which there are even fewer paths toward a solution is the suicide rate among Native American veterans. The AI/AN population has a suicide death rate of over 44 per 100,000—the highest of any group in the nation. However, the number of Native American veterans committing suicide is unclear. The yearly report published by VA on veteran suicide puts Native American in the “other” category with regard to race and ethnicity. Legislators told VA leaders that this lack of data makes developing specific policy responses challenging.

Stone explained that VA gets its suicide mortality data from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and that it takes the department about a year to separate out the overarching veteran numbers. “It took us a fair amount of time to separate Native American data out even prior to this hearing,” he said.

He did say that the key to suicide prevention does not necessarily lie in the mental health arena. “It’s isolation. It’s loneliness. It’s separation. It’s grief. It’s financial problems,” he declared. “We are strongly in favor of giving grants to groups that can engage a community with us.”