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What We Can Learn from One Million Veterans

What can one million veterans tell us? A lot. From toxic exposures, to mental health, to cancer, the Million Veteran Program (MVP) is studying how veterans’ genes affect their health. On Thursday, IAVA and members of the veteran community had the pleasure of sitting down with the MVP team at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to learn about their research.

The Million Veteran Project

Over the past few years, the MVP has collected over 620,000 surveys and blood samples from veterans across the United States who have volunteered to participate. From these samples, researchers at MVP are able to look at a veteran’s genes, or part of the cell that is made up of DNA and determines our traits — everything from our height to eye color to what diseases we are likely to get. Currently, veterans must be enrolled through the VA, complete a survey, and give a blood sample (at their local VA facility) to participate. Ultimately, the MVP aims to collect surveys and samples from one million veterans for their database.

Using this information, MVP researchers are able to study a range of issues like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and diabetes by comparing what genes are linked to certain health outcomes. By collecting information from veterans of all ages and backgrounds, MVP aims to understand how certain factors impact a veteran’s health.

MVP and #SheWhoBorneTheBattle

As of now, about nine percent of the 620,000 veteran participants are women veterans. That is a pretty low number considering women are the fastest growing population of new recruits into the military and women veterans are growing in number every day. With fewer women veteran participants, MVP cannot do as many gender-specific studies focusing on the health of women veterans. As of now, MVP is starting a breast cancer study, but this is the first one focused on women veterans.

The importance of gender-specific research cannot be understated. Men and women experience health issues differently. For example, men and women may experience mental health injuries, like PTSD and depression, differently. Research programs like MVP will further our understanding of these differences and potentially lead to better health care outcomes such as suicide prevention.  

IAVA is working to close this gender gap in research through the #SheWhoBorneTheBattle Campaign and the IAVA-backed Deborah Sampson Act. The Deborah Sampson Act will require the VA to collect and report program outcomes for men and women veterans. Additionally, the Deborah Sampson Act aims to create a more inclusive environment for women veterans at the VA, so that participating in programs like MVP (requiring a visit to the VA) are easier and more comfortable for women veterans.

Find out more about the Million Veteran Project and learn how to become a participant here. Get involved in our #SheWhoBorneTheBattle campaign here or ask your Members of Congress to cosponsor the Deborah Sampson Act, addressing access to care for women veterans, here.

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