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Racial and ethnic disparities in excess mortality among U.S. veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feyman Y, Avila CJ, Auty S, Mulugeta M, Strombotne K, Legler A, Griffith K. Racial and ethnic disparities in excess mortality among U.S. veterans during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health services research. 2023 Jun 1; 58(3):642-653.

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OBJECTIVE: The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected racial and ethnic minorities among the general population in the United States; however, little is known regarding its impact on U.S. military Veterans. In this study, our objectives were to identify the extent to which Veterans experienced increased all-cause mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic, stratified by race and ethnicity. DATA SOURCES: Administrative data from the Veterans Health Administration's Corporate Data Warehouse. STUDY DESIGN: We use pre-pandemic data to estimate mortality risk models using five-fold cross-validation and quasi-Poisson regression. Models were stratified by a combined race-ethnicity variable and included controls for major comorbidities, demographic characteristics, and county fixed effects. DATA COLLECTION: We queried data for all Veterans residing in the 50 states plus Washington D.C. during 2016-2020. Veterans were excluded from analyses if they were missing county of residence or race-ethnicity data. Data were then aggregated to the county-year level and stratified by race-ethnicity. PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Overall, Veterans' mortality rates were 16% above normal during March-December 2020 which equates to 42,348 excess deaths. However, there was substantial variation by racial and ethnic group. Non-Hispanic White Veterans experienced the smallest relative increase in mortality (17%, 95% CI 11%-24%), while Native American Veterans had the highest increase (40%, 95% CI 17%-73%). Black Veterans (32%, 95% CI 27%-39%) and Hispanic Veterans (26%, 95% CI 17%-36%) had somewhat lower excess mortality, although these changes were significantly higher compared to White Veterans. Disparities were smaller than in the general population. CONCLUSIONS: Minoritized Veterans experienced higher rates excess of mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to White Veterans, though with smaller differences than the general population. This is likely due in part to the long-standing history of structural racism in the United States that has negatively affected the health of minoritized communities via several pathways including health care access, economic, and occupational inequities.

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