From the Chief Research and Development Officer
Supporting our returning Veterans
The VA motto is a quote from Abraham Lincoln, "To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan." While some have raised the point that President Lincoln did not anticipate women service members, the sentiment that we should care for our Veterans is timeless.
As the numbers of women serving in the military grow, so too does the need to develop programs that will address the unique needs of these Veterans. In "Chat with Our Experts" we interview Dr. Katherine Iverson, a researcher at the National Center for PTSD. Dr. Iverson's research focuses on women Veterans who have experienced intimate partner violence (IPV). Women Veterans are at higher risk for IPV than the general population, and sometimes, may experience serious head injuries as a result. Dr. Iverson is working to educate both VA providers and women Veterans on the consequences of IPV. Along with her colleagues, she is developing a counseling program to help women who have experienced IVP—covering topics ranging from safety planning and self-care, to connecting with resources in the community, to asking for social support, to understanding the effects of IPV.
We also speak with Dr. Joseph Frank, a researcher at the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System and a Career Development awardee. In the midst of an opioid epidemic, VA continues to treat Veterans who are living with chronic pain and who may be taking opioids for their condition. As a primary care physician, Dr. Frank is very interested in learning how—and in what cases—we can safely reduce or stop opioid pain medications. While there is a great push to reduce the number and duration of opioid prescriptions in the U.S., Dr. Frank and his colleagues have found that the scientific evidence on the best way to taper opioids in people already being treated with them is limited, and that physicians and Veterans face challenges when trying to safely taper opioids. As he progresses in his research and career, Dr. Frank plans to include input from Veterans themselves in future research to develop safe opioid tapering programs.
VA has made a strong commitment to reduce the rate of homelessness among Veterans. According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Veteran homelessness declined nationally by 46 percent during the period 2010–2016. And three states — Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia — have effectively ended Veteran homelessness. However, we still have more work to do to end homelessness and to give homeless Veterans a voice. A research team led by Dr. Keri Rodriguez at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System is studying the use of photography to help homeless and marginally housed Veterans express themselves visually. Study participants appreciated the chance to interact with the research staff and said they were surprised at the strong emotions that surfaced as they took pictures that symbolized heathy behaviors.
Our Veterans put their lives on the line for our country, and some return home from combat with a limb amputation. VA researchers are working to make discoveries that will help these Veterans regain the function of their lost limbs. In a study led by Dr. Linda Resnik, a research scientist with the Providence VA Medical Center, investigators asked Veterans who had an upper-limb amputation to test an advanced prosthetic arm at home. The DEKA arm— also known as the LUKE arm—was developed through a joint endeavor with the Department of Defense and DEKA Integrated Solutions Corp. It is the first artificial upper limb that is capable of performing multiple movements, like bending your elbow and moving your wrist at the same time. The DEKA arm makes it possible for Veterans to do tasks that a more conventional, body-powered artificial arm simply cannot do. But that does not mean that the DEKA arm is better than the conventional prostheses at everything: the researchers found that Veterans chose to use the DEKA arm for some tasks and their conventional prostheses for others. We are happy that Veterans now have more options, and we'll continue to support work that results in ever better artificial limbs.
In this issue of VARQU, we also share several editorials by VA scientists and highlight awards given for outstanding leadership and research efforts. Ultimately, VA research contributes to the VA mission to care for and support Veterans through good health and the challenges that service and life may bring. We hope you enjoy reading about this important work.
Rachel B. Ramoni, D.M.D., Sc.D.
Chief Research and Development Officer