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Smith BM, Evans CT, Ullrich P, Burns S, Guihan M, Miskevics S, LaVela SL, Rajan S, Weaver FM. Using VA data for research in persons with spinal cord injuries and disorders: lessons from SCI QUERI. Journal of rehabilitation research and development. 2010 Nov 9; 47(8):679-88.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides integrated services to more than 25,000 veterans with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D). VA data offer great potential for providing insights into healthcare utilization and morbidity, and these capabilities are central to efforts to improve healthcare for veterans with SCI/D. The objective of this article is to introduce researchers to the use of VA data to examine questions related to SCI/D using examples from Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Quality Enhancement Research Initiative studies. Sources of VA data available to investigators interested in SCI/D-related research include national-level VA administrative and clinical databases and primary data (medical record review, patient surveys). Methods used to identify veterans with SCI/D include the Allocation Resource Center cohort, the Spinal Cord Dysfunction (SCD) Registry, and the VA inpatient SCI flag; only 33% of veterans were included in all three groups (n = 12,306). While neurological level of SCI was unknown for approximately a third of veterans (from SCD Registry data alone), the percent decreased to 13% when augmented with diagnostic codes. Primary data can be used to augment other missing SCI data and to provide more detailed information about complications commonly associated with SCI/D.