New Partnership Links VA, DoD in Study of Servicemembers’ Mental Health

New Partnership Links VA, DoD in Study of Servicemembers’ Mental Health
Photo by Joshua J. Seybert/Air Force

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The VA has joined a longstanding research project in a new partnership designed to help troops and transitioning servicemembers stay strong and resilient in mind, body, and spirit. 


The department will work alongside the Army, the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in the Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS) — one of the largest research studies to look at the mental and emotional health of military personnel.


The new research partnership holds promise in not only helping DoD with the health and well-being of its military personnel, but also how VA supports and treats veterans over their lifetime.


[RELATED: This Survey Will Help the VA Prioritize Its Suicide-Prevention Efforts]


"We're excited to partner with the Department of Defense and the National Institute on Mental Health on this major research effort aimed at preventing suicides," said Dr. Richard A. Stone, Veterans Health Administration (VHA) executive in charge and a retired Army Reserve major general. "Many veterans experience a difficult transition from the military. This research will promote data-sharing between DoD and VA and thereby provide us with critical information to help these veterans.”


“It also promises to inform our outreach to veterans who have not yet used VA health care,” he said.


This partnership is welcomed by MOAA and other organizations that have been advocating for years to strengthen the relationship between DoD and VA. It paves the way for more collaborative work in the future.


STARRS was established in 2009 by the Army and NIMH. It expanded to include a Military Suicide Research Consortium, which includes health research experts across government and academia.


Older suicide studies by the Army captured data on soldiers at various points in their Army career, but the data was lost once members separated. In recent years, the real struggle faced by servicemembers during their transition from the military has become clear. 


“There is an increased risk of death by suicide in the first two years following military separation, and includes a specific subgroup within that high-risk area among individuals who were discharged from military service under other-than-honorable conditions,” according to Kenneth Cox, the Army’s liaison for the STARRS research team.


[RELATED: The VA Is Now Offering Transition Services Specially Tailored for Women Veterans]


The project is funded though 2024 by DoD. In the coming years, researchers are expected to collect billions of data points on solders from 46 Army and DoD databases. 


Outcomes from the project are expected to improve analysis and improve predictive modeling that translates to practical, actionable information to reduce death by suicide and help in treating servicemembers and transitioning veterans struggling with mental health or behavioral health issues.


A recent Army news item includes more details on the project.


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About the Author

Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Campos currently serves as MOAA's Senior Director of Government Relations, managing matters related to military and veterans’ health care, wounded, ill and injured, and caregiver policy.