Managing Recovery and Health through the Continuum of Care" was the theme of the 25th VA Health Services Research and Development Service (HSR&D) National Meeting that was held from February 21-23, 2007 in Arlington, VA. During the meeting, 552 researchers, clinicians, and policymakers participated in more than 90 paper sessions and workshops. In addition, HSR&D investigators viewed 128 posters on an array of veteran-related healthcare issues and several exhibits. This national forum provided many opportunities for discussion, collaboration, and the development of strategies that will improve the care of our diverse veteran population, including a new generation of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with unique healthcare needs.
Hosted by HSR&D's Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center for Veterans with Central Nervous System Damage (Gainesville, FL), the conference highlighted a myriad of issues vital to managing recovery over the long-term, which is particularly important to our young veterans who may face years of rehabilitation and require long-term care. A panel presentation titled "Changing the Environment of Care for the Returning OEF/OIF Veterans" was one of several that addressed this urgent topic. Other research presentations focused on diseases and health care issues prevalent among veterans such as: hypertension, diabetes, HIV screening, telehealth for veterans with heart disease, and adherence to antipsychotic medications for veterans with serious mental illness.
VA's Acting Under Secretary for Health, Brigadier General, US Army, (retired), Michael Kussman, MD, MS, MACP, addressed participants about several challenges including data security and providing the best possible care for OEF/OIF veterans. Under Secretary Kussman addressed the need for access to patient data to facilitate the conduct of high-quality research to improve healthcare to veterans, and he strongly emphasized VA's ultimate responsibility to protect veterans' personal information. An important challenge facing VA is the complex healthcare needs of OEF/OIF veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury (TBI). About 80% of injuries are blast-related injuries, but one of the challenges is identifying soldiers who have sustained TBI. Post-deployment assessment screening will help in this effort.
Captain, US Army (retired) Jonathan Pruden is an advocate for wounded veterans. Seriously wounded in Iraq in 2003, Captain Pruden described a recovery process that required 20 surgeries. Through his own experience and from what he has learned through his volunteer work with other veterans, he emphasized those things he believes will help improve veteran care. For example, VA physicians outside of the specialized polytrauma centers should become more familiar with the range of wounds sustained by OEF/OIF veterans. He also emphasized the fact that today's young veterans, many with amputations, want to lead full lives. They will not be satisfied with learning to walk, these veterans want to run and climb.
The meeting's keynote address was given by Stephanie Studenski, MD, MPH. Dr. Studenski is Director of the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and is a preeminent authority and researcher on mobility, balance disorders, and falls in older adults. Dr. Studenski spoke about integrated care for older adults and stressed the fact that VA is responsible for the health care of veterans across their life span - and that caring for one generation of veterans will inform the care of future generations.
VA's Chief Research and Development Officer, Joel Kupersmith, MD also spoke to the need for optimal information security and vowed that VA would take the lead on this issue. Seth Eisen, MD, MSc, newly appointed Director of HSR&D, highlighted HSR&D research priorities: implementation, equity, mental health, women's health, long-term care, research methodology, and genomics (e.g., implementing proven and clinically relevant genomic information into practice). Dr. Eisen underscored HSR&D's commitment to providing optimal health care through sustained scientific discovery.
Dr. Kussman presented the 2007 Under Secretary's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research to Douglas Owens, MD. This award recognizes a VA researcher whose work has led to major improvements in the quality of veterans' health care, has made key contributions to the future of HSR&D through excellence in training and mentorship, and has enhanced the visibility and reputation of VA research through national leadership. Dr. Owens is an influential health services researcher and an exceptional mentor and leader, whose research has focused on HIV, sudden cardiac death, clinical guideline development, and biodefense.