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2023 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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5007 — It’s a Two-Way Street: Veteran Engagement Benefits Research and the Veterans it Serves

Lead/Presenter: Stephen Drop
All Authors: Steffensmeier KS (Center for Access and Delivery Research and Evaluation-Iowa City)

To highlight the benefits for Veterans participation in Veteran Engagement Groups (VEG). I am a current and founding member of the CADRE Veteran Engagement Panel (VEP) located in Iowa City (established 2015) and serve on the Assessing Social and Community Environments with National Data (ASCEND) for Veteran Suicide Prevention study’s Veteran Engagement Board (VEB).

I served 7 (2002-2009) years in the Army/National Guard as a combat engineer with a deployment to Iraq in 2005. As a Veteran, I use the Iowa City VA for my medical care. My PTSD has robbed me of how much I believe in both myself and my intelligence. As Veteran engagement research began to grow, I became increasingly involved in Veteran Engagement Groups.

I joined the CADRE VEP and the ASCEND project's VEB, because I liked the idea of being able to use my lived experience in the military and as a Veteran to aid the researcher in obtaining the most usable results. I may not speak up much in groups, but when I do, my thoughts have matured, and I am able to convey a lot of input at once. A lot of times it feels like I’m able to consolidate others' comments and express them to the researcher in a more concise manner.

Since becoming a partner in VA research by joining VEGs, I feel much happier with myself, and I have been able to restore some of the confidence I had lost. Attending meetings encouraged me to get out of my house and socialize with strangers, which is no small feat for a combat Veteran with PTSD. Veteran engagement in research has helped me process and come to terms with my military experience. Seeing that other Veterans have had similar experiences showed me that my own are real and valid. I have always been someone who wanted to be able to help, so being on Veteran engagement panels has allowed me to use my less-than-optimal experience into assistance for others. On the CADRE VEP, my suggestions are informed by my life experience as a younger, male Veteran who also works in Environmental Services at our VA. On ASCEND I helped navigate the complexity of language around Veterans who have firearms and need mental health assistance.

VEGs are important because I have seen how we have positively affected researchers, especially those who have met with repeatedly. Researchers leave happy because they now know how to focus their research to obtain results that are informed by Veterans’ expertise, and will therefore get the best response from that same demographic. Through participation in VEGs I’ve seen researchers’ dedication to VA’s mission and their concerted effort to improve our care. Veteran engagement has positively impacted my self-confidence and my confidence in VA.