“From War to Home: Through the Veteran’s Lens” is a testament to the power of innovative VA research. The result of a study that began in 2011, the exhibit was first mounted in 2012 and was then shown widely at VA medical centers, galleries, and community clinics. Now, a second exhibit titled “From War to Home: The Impact of Invisible Injuries” will be on display at the New Orleans VA Medical Center through March 1, 2019. Both exhibits are the result of HSR&D-funded work led by Gala True, PhD, who used Photovoice to help Veterans and caregivers tell their stories. Photovoice is a research tool that allows individuals to convey their experiences through visual images and first-person narratives.
Dr. True’s first study, conducted while she was with HSR&D’s Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion, sought to determine whether using Photovoice methods with Veterans was feasible, and, if so, whether engaging in Photovoice research would increase Veterans’ health communication self-efficacy and decrease their social anxiety. Dr. True also sought to understand if viewing photo-narratives generated through Photovoice would positively impact attitudes and knowledge of VA leadership, providers, and staff around the experiences and needs of Veterans who had served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. This study included 29 Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veteran collaborators who used photography to share stories of their military service, deployment, and homecoming. They took pictures of their daily lives, gathered photos from their personal collections, and described the meaning behind each image in interviews with researchers.
Dr. True and her team then created photo-narratives, pairing photographs with what the Veterans had said about them. The resulting exhibit debuted at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center in Philadelphia on Veterans Day, 2012. Since then, it has traveled the country continuously and been installed in more than 20 community and VA locations. The exhibit has served to stimulate dialogue and build bridges between Veterans and those wanting to welcome them home.
In her second study using the Photovoice approach, Dr. True is engaging with OEF/OIF and Operation New Dawn Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI)—and their family caregivers—to convey experiences of community reintegration after TBI. Forty-five Veterans and their family caregivers were enrolled in a three-year study spanning two VA sites—Southeastern Louisiana and Portland, Oregon. The project team also includes HSR&D researcher Sarah Ono, PhD, a Core Investigator with HSR&D’s Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care, and Ray Facundo, MSW, an OIF Veteran. Mr. Facundo was a participant in the original study, and eventually moved to New Orleans to work with Dr. True. As with the first study, another comprehensive exhibit has emerged, along with a series of presentations and panel discussions with Veterans and caregivers as co-presenters who disseminate important findings back to VA and community stakeholders. In addition to installing the exhibit, Dr. True and her team also are using results from this study to create a VA-wide blueprint for implementing community-based participatory/partnered research based on the Photovoice methodology.
Dr. True is an investigator with the South Central Mental Illness Research and Education Center and the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System. As a folklorist with more than 15 years of experience conducting health services research with vulnerable populations, Dr. True’s work focuses on improving access to care and the health of individuals and communities through patient-centered and community-engaged research approaches. Her most recent research focuses on collaborating with Veterans and other key stakeholders to identify barriers to post-deployment care and propose solutions for improving community reintegration after separation from military service.
This ongoing work has resulted in two comprehensive art exhibits, webinars, citations, and other material. Use the resources below to find more information about the exhibits, as well as the studies and their results.