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Joining Forces with Indiana University School of Medicine: Working for veterans


In recognition of Veterans Day, the IU School of Medicine is participating in events on the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis campus directed at veterans. The school seeks to interest veterans in research studies that hope to unravel mental and physical health issues unique to service.

One of those studies is looking at the connection between chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. Samantha D. Outcalt, Ph.D., research fellow and a clinical psychologist at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center and an assistant professor of clinical psychology in clinical psychiatry at IU School of Medicine, has enrolled 24 veterans in the study that opened in August. As the principal investigator, she hopes to have data from 150 participants in her study, which is jointly funded by VA Health Services Research and Development and the Indiana Institute for Medical Research.

“We know from previous research that chronic pain and PTSD co-exist at high rates, especially among veterans,” Dr. Outcalt said. “Military service places individuals at high risk of exposure to events that cause injury and psychological trauma, and often the development of chronic pain and PTSD results from the same traumatic incident. 

“There are many unanswered questions about the complex relationship between chronic pain and PTSD. Although empirical literature suggests that symptoms and level of functioning appear to be worsened when the conditions occur together rather than individually, we do not yet fully understand the underlying mechanisms of their high comorbidity. The primary aim of this study is to help untangle the relationship between the two and ultimately lead to improved treatment for veterans suffering from these conditions.”  

Other research looking at pain in veterans includes a study led by Kurt Kroenke, M.D., an IUPUI Chancellor’s Professor and a professor of medicine, which is exploring methods to optimize treatment for veterans suffering chronic pain.

“Women Veterans and Comprehensive Care: An Exploration of Challenges” is a study under way by Richard Frankel, Ph.D., professor of medicine and a health services researcher. The purpose of this study is to develop methods to rate individual treatment goals and improve the goal-setting process so patients are more vested in their treatment.

Another study looking at the role goal-setting plays in treatment compliance and healing is “Goal Setting in Psychiatric Rehabilitation.”

Neale Chumbler, Ph.D., leads a team of researchers who have developed STeleR, a home telerehabilitation program that reportedly improves lower body physical functioning even two years after a stroke. More than 50 veterans are enrolled in the multi-site study. The study has shown that “stroke survivors will participate in and can benefit from a telehealth system that enables therapists to deliver and monitor rehab in the patient’s home from remote locations,” said Dr. Chumbler, who is a research scientist with the Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Bases Practice at the Roudebush VA Medical Center and a Regenstrief Institute investigator. 

The IU School of Medicine was one of more than 100 medical schools across the country that signed a pledge recognizing the sacrifice and commitment of military service members, veterans and their families. Through the Joining Forces Initiative, medical schools made a commitment to find solutions to health issues troubling veterans and their families and use our integrated missions in education, research and clinical care to train the next generation of physicians to meet the needs of those who serve our nation.

In recognition of Veterans Day this month, the Association of American Medical Colleges has established Joining Forces Wellness Week to heighten awareness about the health needs of the nation’s veterans and service members and their families, and elevate the role that medical schools and teaching hospitals play in serving this community. Veterans Week at IUPUI began Nov. 5 and includes a number of activities focused on military health issues.