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  • Washington Highlights

    VA National Research Advisory Council Discusses Strategic Priorities for Research and Veteran Engagement

    Anne Berry, Lead Specialist, Implementation Research & Policy

    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Research Advisory Council (NRAC) met June 6 to provide updates on priorities for veteran research and engagement.

    VA Office of Research and Development (ORD) Chief Research and Development Officer Rachel Ramoni, DMD, ScD, updated council members about the three strategic priorities for ORD and the progress of the workgroups established in support of each area. The Increasing Access to High-Quality Clinical Trials Workgroup has selected 12 sites (from a total of 45 applications received) to support an initiative developed in partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). These sites will form the NCI and VA interagency Group to Accelerate Trials Enrollment (NAVIGATE), a national network designed to make it easier for veterans diagnosed with cancer to enroll in NCI-supported clinical trials.

    The Research-to-Real World Impact Workgroup will work to develop a set of recommendations and has identified three key areas of focus: developing flexible funding mechanisms to support evidence-generating research priorities; enhancing implementation efforts through the furthering of strategic partnerships, dissemination of research findings to VA stakeholders, and monitoring the adoption across projects; and providing the VA workforce with training to support their understanding of the value of practice-based research.

    Additionally, the Transforming VA Data into a National Resource Workgroup’s goal is to reduce the time and effort needed to access, understand, and use veteran data for research. The group’s priority areas include enhancing scientific computing capabilities to enable further research and promoting veteran engagement activities to better understand how veterans hope to see their data used. The group aims to increase the number of VA researchers that are using data in their work as well as academic partners engaged in research with VA investigators.

    Dr. Ramoni also presented on how ORD will use additional funding from the recent omnibus funding bill to advance research [see Washington Highlights, March 23]. She highlighted several projects, including:

    • Identifying how the exoskeleton technology can help veterans who have experienced strokes or brain injuries regain function;
    • Ensuring that de-identified data of veterans with cancer is included in national databases used to study effectiveness of cancer treatments;
    • Understanding the health effects of Agent Orange on veterans who may have been exposed;
    • Establishing a VA Center of Excellence to promote research innovations that support veterans in their ability to choose home care; and
    • Addressing the prosthetic needs of women veterans with amputations.

    ORD Director of Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D) David Atkins, MD, MPH, presented on ways the VA is working to increase veteran engagement in research and what the team has learned through conducting meetings across the country. Notably, he reported that the VA needs to determine how to best measure the impact of engagement, as well as develop standard operating procedures for how to recruit, onboard, and compensate veterans who engage in strategic planning for research. HSR&D is currently planning an “Engaging those who Served” Veteran Summit for the summer of 2019 during which stakeholders will identify successes and challenges related to veteran-engaged research.