PURPOSE Racial variation in health care outcomes is an important topic. Risk-adjustment models have not been developed for elective abdominal aortic aneurysm repair (AAA), lower extremity bypass revascularization (LEB), or lower extremity amputation (AMP). Earlier studies examining racial variation in mortality and morbidity from AAA, LEB, or AMP were limited to administrative data. This study determined risk factors for mortality after surgery for vascular disease and determined whether race is an important risk factor. METHODS Data in this prospective observational study were obtained from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. Detailed demographic and clinical data were collected prospectively from patients' medical records by trained nurse reviewers. Eligible patients were those 18 years and older who underwent elective AAA, LEB, or AMP at one of 44 VA medical centers performing both vascular and cardiac surgery (phase I; October 1991 to December 1993) and at one of these 44 or 79 additional VA medical centers performing vascular but not cardiac surgery (phase II; January 1994 to August 1995). The independent association of several preoperative factors with the 30-day postoperative mortality rate was examined with stepwise logistic regression analysis for AAA, LEB, and AMP. Models were developed in the combined 44 VA medical centers and validated in the 79 VA medical centers. The independent association of race with the 30-day postoperative mortality rate was examined after controlling for important preoperative risk factors for each operation. RESULTS More than 10,000 surgical operations were examined, and 5, 3, and 10 independent preoperative predictors of 30-day mortality rate were identified for AAA, LEB, and AMP, respectively. The observed mortality rate for patients undergoing AAA was higher (7.2% vs 3.2%; P =.02) in African American patients than in white patients in the 44 VA medical centers, although the differences were not significant in LEB and AMP or at the additional 79 hospitals. After important preoperative risk factors were controlled, there was no difference in 30-day mortality rates between African American patients and white patients. CONCLUSION We identified several important preoperative risk factors for 30-day mortality rate in three vascular operations. From the results of this study, race was determined not to be an independent predictor of mortality.