VA to vets: Tell us what works for you

Lelia Jackson, director, Center for Compassionate Innovation

Updated: This story was updated on 8/30/16 with VHACCI’s new contact information.

What works for one patient may not work for the next. Now a small group from the Department of Veterans Affairs will explore alternative treatment options for veterans when traditional methods fall short.

The Center for Compassionate Innovation will focus on finding new approaches to health and physical wellness; it’s not to be confused with the VA Center for Innovation (VACI), which is heavily focused on improving technology and support services. Much of the new center’s work will focus on mental health.

“We have to be flexible and innovative in our approach by offering emerging therapies that are safe, compassionate and ethical after traditional treatments have not been successful,” said Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin.

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Shulkin has called suicide prevention VA’s top priority. The department projects 20 veterans a day committed suicide in 2014. VA has already hired additional doctors, therapists and Veterans Crisis Line employees. The center is another way to fight the deadly trend.

He announced the center’s launch at the Brain Trust Pathway to Innovation in April. 

“VA should be the epicenter of innovation for Veterans,” said Shulkin.

VA takes an evidence-based approach to medicine, which means clinicians rely heavily on research and clinical expertise to minimize risk to the patient. The center is looking for emerging therapies to enhance veterans’ physical and mental well-being.

“There is a small segment of veterans who have tried our evidence-based treatments and have not had success, particularly around mental health, and we hear that loud and clear,” Lelia Jackson, director of the Center for Compassionate Innovation. “We want to be open to providing the care that might help that small segment of veterans.”

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The center has a small staff but a broad reach of experts. Jackson emphasized mental health but said the center is open to all ideas.

“We will be carefully reviewing and vetting every single proposal that we receive,” Jackson said. “If there is something new or emerging taking place that we don’t know about, we want to know about it.”

Right now, the center is still in its infancy. Jackson said they are standing up the office and ensuring good algorithms are in place. The first challenge is to get the word out.

“If there is a therapy out there that is safe and ethical that has not reached the bar that we’ve traditionally looked at under evidence-based treatments but is safe and ethical and does help a large number of veterans,” said Jackson, “we want that.” 

The Center for Compassionate Innovation doesn’t have a website yet, but can be reached by email at: VHACCI@VA.GOV

“[The] ultimate goal is to increase veterans’ health and well-being at no risk to the veteran,” said Jackson. “Our fundamental principle is to do no harm.”

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