November 10, 2023

Native American Veterans: History & Important Facts to Know [2023]

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Within the rich, but often troubling, tapestry of American history, few threads emerge as vivid and significant as that of Native American servicemen and women. Their military service predates not only the country's establishment but even the military’s official beginnings. 

Understanding the stories and experiences of Native American veterans are critical to acknowledging the immense contributions they have made to their tribes and the nation at large. 

At Televeda, we’re working on several health and wellness initiatives that put Native American veterans in the forefront. And part of this dedication includes continued education about Native American veteran history, which we’ll cover in this article. 

What are Native American veterans? 

Native American veterans are individuals of Native American descent that have served in the United States Armed Forces. This includes those who have served in different branches of the military during peace or war times. 

Native American veterans, like all U.S veterans, may receive certain benefits or recognition for their service. There are specific programs and resources dedicated to Native American veterans through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Native American Veterans: History of Military Service


Native Americans, or American Indians, endured decades of hardships in the United States–but have still consistently defended the United States through their service in the Armed Forces. Their military service is a source of pride despite its complex history.

Here are some ways Native Americans have been instrumental in military service in the United States: 

  • During World War I, between around 6,000 American Indians enlisted and another 6,500 were drafted. About two-thirds served in the infantry and won widespread praise for bravery and achievement. Sadly, 5% of American Indian combat soldiers were killed, compared to 1% percent of the rest of the American forces.
  • Around 15,000 Native American men who served during WWI weren’t even American citizens–they just chose to join. Citizenship would not be granted to Indian Nations until 1924 with the passing of the Indian Citizenship Act
  • In WWII, a group called the Navajo Code Talkers created a special code using their indigenous, largely unwritten language to transmit sensitive information. There were approximately 400 Native Code Talkers in the military from the Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Lakota, Meskwaki and Comanche tribes. Although Japanese forces often successfully broke codes, they could never break the Navajo Code, and the telephone squads were key in helping the U.S. win many battles that ended the war.
  • Native Americans supported war efforts in other ways, including working in factories, as volunteer nurses, joining the Red Cross, buying war bonds, and more.  
  • Ira Hamilton Hayes was one of the six Marines who famously erected the American flag on Iwo Jima. Hayes was an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community, located in Pinal and Maricopa counties in Arizona.
  • During the Vietnam War, 42,000 American Indians served–meaning one of four eligible Native people compared to about one of twelve non-Natives served. A large number volunteered, often citing family and tribal traditions of service. 
  • 33 American Indians have been awarded the Medal of Honor throughout their history of military service, from 1872 to today. 

Native American Veteran Service History by The Numbers

The military service of the AI/AN peoples is extensive, selfless, and impressive. 

  • AIAN Veterans comprised 88.7% men and 11.3% women.
  • Over 67% of AIAN veterans don't use the Veterans Affairs mental health services.
  • Native Americans serve in the United States’ Armed Forces at five times the national average. Native American women also serve at higher rates than other female demographics in the military.
  • Native Americans have served in the U.S. military in every major conflict for more than 200 years.
  • Of the 350,000 American Indians living in the US during WWII, nearly 45,000 of them enlisted in the Armed Forces–making them the demographic with the highest rate of voluntary enlistment.
  • In World World II, the American Indian servicemen earned at least 71 Air Medals, 34 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 51 Silver Stars, 47 Bronze Stars and five Medals of Honor.
  • The National Native American Veterans Memorial opened in November 2020, on the grounds of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC and was dedicated with a procession and ceremony on the National Mall on November 11th, 2022. This tribute to Native heroes recognizes for the first time on a national scale the enduring and distinguished service of Native Americans in every branch of the US military. The design incorporates water for ceremonies, benches for gathering and reflection, and four lances where veterans, family members, tribal leaders, and others can tie cloths for prayers and healing. 
  • American Indian and Alaska Native veterans have lower incomes, lower educational attainment and higher unemployment than veterans of other races. However, AIAN Veterans had higher personal incomes than AIAN non-Veterans. 
  • They’re also more likely to lack health insurance and have a disability (service-connected or otherwise) than veterans of other races. American Indian or Alaska Native Veterans, compared with non-Hispanic White Veterans, were proportionately more likely to have a disability rating of 50-90% or 100%.
  • AI/AN Veterans who use the VA experience PTSD at a greater rate than all other Veteran groups, with AI/AN Veterans having almost double the rate of PTSD as non-Hispanic white Veterans (20.5% vs 11.6%).
  • AI/AN Veterans experience chronic pain and are diagnosed with diabetes at higher rates than non-Hispanic white Veterans. 

How Televeda is Supporting Native American Veterans

Only about a third of American Indian/Alaska Native veterans using VA care have access to VA mental health services. Televeda, along with the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Arizona Department of Veteran Services, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, are working hard to change that. 

Here are three initiatives that Televeda has begun to reduce isolation and promote healing amongst AI/AN veterans and tribal communities. 

Arizona Health Improvement Plan: AzHIP

In partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services, this project focuses on combating social isolation and loneliness among vulnerable populations, particularly people in rural and underserved areas. 

The Arizona Department of Health Service created AzHIP to reach and promote the well-being of any and all unreached populations in Arizona. Televeda joined this initiative to focus on unreached Native American populations. 

To work towards this goal, Televeda aims to provide these communities with the resources necessary to get involved in telehealth connections. Access to telehealth services helps participants receive the mental health care–and sense of community that they deserve.

Roger That! Tribal Connectivity Project

Televeda has partnered with the Arizona Department of Veteran Services to support veterans in rural or remote areas who are not equipped with the resources to take advantage of veteran benefits, and who thereby lack the sense of community so necessary for a veteran. 

Televeda is actively engaged with State and National Broadband efforts to increase digital infrastructure into Tribal Lands. We support this effort today through effective digital literacy training and access to devices.

We’re currently working on providing mobile Internet kits to all 22 Indigenous tribes across Arizona, specifically for veterans, which includes a tablet, printer, and computer. Veterans can use these devices to book appointments, sign up for benefits, and stay connected with their loved ones.

Hero’s Story

Hero’s Story is the first Indigenous, community-based platform to facilitate a trusted network of culturally-appropriate interventions and resources that support mental health. In partnership with experts, researchers, and tribal liaisons, we are focused on three pillars:

  • Culturally-sensitive and community-led experiences: We incorporate traditional healing practices like storytelling and talking-circle interventions to reduce social isolation and facilitate community healing. We are establishing a research-based framework that honors traditional methods, unlocking a new path to care.
  • Local and digital access: As the technological landscape expands, a stark digital divide grows along socioeconomic lines, hitting Native Americans and veterans very hard, with over 73% of households lacking broadband access and over 51% lacking computers. Hero’s Story is providing effective digital literacy training and access to these devices for Indigenous tribes throughout Arizona. 
  • Evidence-based outcomes: We incorporate traditional healing practices like storytelling and talking-circle interventions to reduce social isolation and facilitate community healing. We’re establishing a research-based framework that honors traditional methods, unlocking a new path to care.

The design and implementation of the Hero’s Story Project has been and will continue to be deeply informed by members of tribal nations including Navajo, Lakota, and O’odham.

Supporting Native American Veterans

The legacy of Native American Veterans in the United States military stretches back centuries and is steeped in a vibrant history of courage, resilience, and an unwavering resolve to safeguard their homeland. 

Despite the numerous prejudices they encountered, their contribution to the military arsenal of the United States is profoundly inspiring and calls for due recognition and the resources and support they deserve. 

If you’re interested in getting involved with any of Televeda’s initiatives to support Native American veterans’ mental health and longevity, we’d love to have you! 

Learn More

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