VA’s Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D) Service is a leader in increasing attention to women’s inclusion in VA research and building capacity to increase the conduct of women’s health research to address critical knowledge gaps. Funded since 2010, the VA Women’s Health Research Network (WHRN) is among HSR&D’s special initiatives to systematically transform VA’s capacity to examine and reduce gender disparities in health and health care and use research to increase the delivery of evidence-based care tailored to women Veterans’ needs.
Objectives of the VA Women’s Health Research Network (WHRN)
WHRN was initially funded by HSR&D in 2010, following several years of systematic development of the VA’s Women’s Health Research Agenda that spanned all four Services of VA’s Office of Research & Development. WHRN’s initial objectives (2010-2013) were to (1) build capacity in VA women’s health research by developing a national Consortium of VA researchers and arming them with the knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to successfully design and conduct women Veterans’ health research, and (2) develop, implement and test a VA Women’s Health Practice Based Research Network (WH-PBRN) to facilitate recruitment of women Veterans in VA research by establishing a ready-to-use infrastructure of partnered VA healthcare facilities enabling investigators to access enough women Veterans, their providers, and their care settings. Together, the Consortium and Women’s Health PBRN enable conduct of high-priority research on gender differences and women Veteran-specific issues.
Extension of WHRN to Accelerate Interventions, Implementation, and High-Impact Research
As WHRN continued to support achievement of VA’s women’s health research agenda, HSR&D has extended funding through 2021 to continue key functions (e.g., cyberseminars, researcher training, technical support for collaborative research development, building WH-PBRN Site Leads skills). WHRN also began pilot testing strategies for supporting VA as a learning healthcare system and increasing employee engagement in sustainable research-clinical partnerships capable of generating and acting on research evidence to improve care and respond to high-priority needs. For example, WHRN launched a women Veterans’ suicide prevention work group to consolidate efforts to generate high-quality research and educate researchers on risks and resiliency factors, developed a research agenda and provided technical support to increase funding rates, and is spearheading a new VA journal supplement on suicide research among women Veterans, active duty servicewomen, and civilian women. WH-PBRN continues to serve as a testing ground for implementing and spreading evidence-based practice.
Examples of Key WHRN Research
Women Veterans Suicide Prevention Research Work Group
The WHRN launched the Women Veterans Suicide Prevention Research Work Group in March 2017 to bring national attention and resources to bear on accelerating research evidence on women Veterans’ unique risks and resiliencies and gender differences that may inform tailoring of suicide prevention interventions. The work group is national in scope, given the importance of collaborative research development that builds on wide-ranging expertise across the country. The objectives of the Work Group are to:
Understand and act on the technical, data resources, and other support needs of the research community dedicated to better understanding and intervening on women Veterans’ suicide-related risks and actions;
Collaboratively develop and help obtain funding for research that increases our understanding of women Veterans’ suicide risks and their determinants on the path to designing suicide prevention interventions;
Increase communication and dissemination of women Veterans’ suicide prevention research;
Accelerate the trajectory of research to interventions and implementation of effective strategies to reduce women Veterans’ suicidal behaviors and outcomes.
Women Veterans’ Experiences with Harassment at VA
One in four women Veterans report having been harassed on VA grounds. VA has funded a pilot to address gender-based harassment through interviews of over 20 nationally recognized experts, which will culminate in use of public deliberation techniques among Veterans and VA employees to generate novel strategies that consider values and evidence to stem harassment in VA settings. VA has also funded research to determine how VA staff may intervene in patient harassment. The WHRN is providing technical support to these and other researchers working to develop and conduct research in this area.