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Federal agencies boost research agenda for veterans' problems

August 6, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Issues experienced in military families represent an area of concern

Notwithstanding a major increase in awareness of the diversity of behavioral health problems experienced by returning military veterans and their loved ones, much remains under-researched in terms of these issues’ identification, treatment and prevention. A newly announced partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and entities within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is expected to mount an aggressive effort toward closing the knowledge gap.

The collaborative partnership will award $7 million for research initiatives on substance abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and associated problems, both for returning veterans and their loved ones. Projects must be specific to individuals who are serving or have served in the ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the range of research topics that might be considered for a grant award appears to have few bounds, according to the deputy branch chief of the Prevention Research Branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

“This was written very broadly; these projects are to be researcher-initiated,” says Eve E. Reider, PhD. “People are to come in with their ideas about what they think is important,” she says, so it is not possible to say whether the effort will end up funding more treatment research projects, prevention studies, epidemiological analyses, or something else.

NIDA, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the VA each will fund $2 million in grants in areas relevant to their respective missions. The other $1 million in grants will originate out of the National Cancer Institute, which has an interest in tobacco issues under this initiative.

Reider considers behavioral health issues affecting family members of those serving in the military to be a particularly under-researched area to this point. “There is very little known about the effect of deployment on families,” she says. “There are a lot of opportunities for prevention for families, as well as treatment.”

The funding opportunity announcements (RFA-DA-10-001 and RFA-DA-10-002) represent the next formal stage in a process launched in January at a NIDA-hosted conference that attracted more than 200 government officials and researchers interested in establishing a research agenda targeting the military. In the cover story in the March/April 2009 issue of Addiction Professional, Reider said the comorbid disorders seen in many returning veterans call for coordinated interagency responses. She added at the time that a cadre of researchers who never had considered military issues as a possible focus of their work were preparing to submit such proposals.

The deadline for receipt of grant applications is Dec. 22, 2009. For more information, visit http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-DA-10-001.html and http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-DA-10-002.html.

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