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Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC)


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CIVIC Veteran Engagement

Veteran engagement (VE) is an aspect of research and research practice that the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC) values. At CIVIC we seek to expand the engagement of Veterans in research to increase the dialogue between researchers and the Veteran community. We strive to innovate in this area and contribute greater understanding of Veteran (patient) engagement to the larger scientific community. CIVIC's VE program includes:

  • CIVIC's Veteran Engagement Group (VEG)
  • Elements that involve Veterans in individual research studies
  • Research that incorporates Veteran narratives using the DIPEx approach
  • Targeted dissemination, or sharing, of research to the local Veteran community
  • VHA Health Services Research & Development learning collaborative on Veteran Engagement


The VEG is a platform for Veterans to share their perspectives with other Veterans, researchers at the Portland VA, and the larger Veteran community. By joining the CIVIC VEG, Veterans can help shape the future of VA research and impact health care for all Veterans.

Established in 2015, the CIVIC Veteran Engagement Group (VEG) is comprised of 7 Veterans from multiple service eras and branches of the military. VEG members include Veterans who are VA patients, former VA employees and volunteers, and Veteran clinicians. The VEG provides individual feedback to CIVIC Investigators and research teams at all phases of the research process-from proposal development to dissemination of findings, and all steps in between-at monthly meetings.

The VEG supports the mission of the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care and Veteran engagement strategies of VA Health Services Research and Development and the VA Blueprint for Excellence.


Why a Veteran Engagement Group? Veterans bring important perspectives to the research process and as users of the health care system we are working to improve, their input holds the potential to increase the relevance and uptake of research into clinical practice. The Veteran community has unique needs and we have found that the best way to get feedback is to go to the Veterans themselves. The VEG provides a diverse group of VA users who are learning about the research process, while also increasing our understanding of Veterans views and priorities.

(Back row L to R) John Neibert, Jennie Boster, John Lind, (front row) Sarah Ono, Lisa Neibert, Mary Frances Ritchie

"Giving Veterans a Voice is important. Because sometimes Veterans feel like a number in a machine. But getting Veterans perspectives make you feel like you have a voice." - Veteran Engagement Group Member

What do the VEG members have to say?


"Why I am engaged in research"
By John D. Lind, Vietnam Veteran
Background: The VA Portland Health Care System (VAPORHCS), Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D) Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC) established a Veteran Engagement Group (VEG) to support research in 2015. John Lind is a Vietnam Veteran, leader of the "Get a Life" Marching Band based in Portland, OR, and in a former member of the Patient Engagement Panel (PEP) at the Oregon Clinical Health Information Network (OCHIN). Mr. Lind is a founding-member of the CIVIC VEG and participated in the Seed Committee that helped the initial group.
I still remember meeting with Sarah Ono for the first time in 2015. Dr. Ono told me about a Veteran group they wanted to engage with at the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC).  I felt excited in giving back to research as I was getting all my care at the VA. I loved the open dialog of those initial meetings as we figured out what we would be doing in research and getting to know each other.
My voice was heard as well as all the other Seed Committee members as we took on the task of forming this special Veteran research group over the course of 6 months. I believe that the reason we are so successful today is the slow and steady pace we took in getting the group started from the beginning.
After the Seed Committee, I was asked to become a member of the group now called the CIVIC VEG.  I loved the concept and the promise of how I could interact with researchers and offer a Veteran's voice to help inform the development of studies. One major difference from other research groups I have participated in, is that the VEG doesn’t need to be highly structured with bylaws or voting. We show up to the meetings, review notes and provide direct feedback to researchers.
The VEG wanted true and honest Veteran feedback and dialogue with researchers and their teams. I believe that's what we still have to this day. That's why I can hardly wait to show up for the next meeting. I think Mary Frances Richie and Sarah Ono put a lot of time and effort into making sure that we have a great and successful meeting each month. Their time commitment to the CIVIC VEG has made us very successful.
I believe in being part of the CIVIC VEG as a Veteran because I am offering up a Veteran’s voice to the questions that researchers ask.

Who are the members of the VEG?


JENNIE BOSTER is a U.S. Air Force Veteran. She enlisted at age 19. Following her enlistment, she studied psychology at Washington State University. Jennie is currently a full time employee at the Portland VA. In her free time, Jennie likes to ride horses, hike, rock climb and is pursuing a graduate degree in the mental health care field. She is interested in addressing whole health integration and care coordination through Veteran engagement at the VA. 

CODY GRAHAM is a recent graduate of the School of Community Health at Portland State University. He has been a Student Health Advisory Board (SHAB) member and chair at the Center for Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) at Portland State University (PSU). He likes to spend time with his wife and dogs, and enjoys exercising, gaming, and being in the outdoors.

He is a Navy Veteran, with two combat tours in Iraq. Cody is interested in the good that comes out of the collaboration between community stakeholders and the professionals that we work with and how students begin to take more ownership in the work that is done. His interest in Veteran Engagement is rooted in how it helps to empower the community, allowing a level of transparency that would be missed without Veteran involvement. He is interested in addressing access, culturally competent and patient-centered care, and quality of care at the VHA.

Irisa Grimes VEG memberIRISA GRIMES is a United States Marine Corps OIF/OEF veteran. She deployed to Al-Taqaddam in the Al-Anbar Province in 2007 as a Motor T Mechanic. She graduated Pacific University in 2017 with a BA of Public Health and works at the Portland VA as a Research Assistant. Irisa is PASSIONATE about Veterans’ health, social justice, health care equity and intersectionality. Her senior capstone, Operation SafeTransPort, proposes a Portland based pilot program designed to reduce provider-related social stigma towards transgender veterans accessing the VA Health Care System. This fall Irisa starts her Occupational Therapy Doctoral program and hopes to return to the Portland VA. She lives in an old farmhouse in Forest Grove with her partner, their border collie and their really fat cat.

MAURICE "ALEX" HARKINS is a U.S. Navy Veteran including in country Vietnam. He receives all of his medical care at the VA. He is a volunteer with My HealtheVet/Secure Messaging, a former founding member of the VAPorHCS Veteran Advisory Board, a former veteran advisor to the Quality, Safety, and Access Board at VAPORHCS, and was a Seed Committee participant for the Veteran Engagement Group (VEG) at CIVIC.


CASSANDRA KRAWEC-PAUL lives in Yamhill County, Oregon. Cassandra is a wife, mother to two boys, Retired SSG from the Oregon Army National Guard 41STB, Operation Iraqi Freedom Veteran, Wounded Warrior, student, and local volunteer. She is currently a full-time student working towards her Master of Business at Grantham University. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Management at Grantham University and an Associate of Applied Science at Chemeketa Community College. She attended Mountain View High School and is a life time member of Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Cassandra has earned various awards and a Combat Action Badge while serving in the Oregon Army National Guard.  She is a volunteer in the local McMinnville school district for KSMART (Kindergartener Start Making A Reader Today), advancement and outdoor coordinator for Cub Scouts, PTA (Parent Teacher Association) member, and a parent volunteer at son's elementary school.

JOHN LIND was drafted into Army on September 27, 1967. He did Army Basic Training at Ft. Lewis and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk. Shortly after Christmas in 1967, he was sent to Vietnam. He was assigned to D Company, 1st of the 5th Air Calvary as an Infantryman. John was wounded in action on March 31, 1968 by a mortar round during a fire fight. He spent three months in a hospital in Vietnam, and was sent to Okinawa for further hospitalization. He was reassigned to the Finance Office and had his MOS changed to Finance Specialist. He ended his military service on September 16, 1969.

John has spent twenty years as a board member for the Selective Service Local Board No. 5 in Portland. John is a member of the Clinical and Patient Engagement (CAPE) and the Advanced Patient Engagement advisory boards at Oregon Community Health Information Network (OCHIN). He was a Seed Committee participant for the Veteran Engagement Group (VEG) at CIVIC. For the past 27 years, John has been the leader of his marching band.

JOHN NEIBERT first enlisted in the U.S Navy Reserve. He retired from U. S. Army after 21 years in the Infantry. He served three combat tours in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Iraq.  John receives all of his care at the VA. After retiring he worked as a Mental Health Provider, Certified Peer Counselor at VAPORHCS at the Vancouver campus. He is currently pursuing a dual Masters of Social Work and Health Administration. 


LISA NEIBERT is a United States Air Force Veteran who served stateside in 1991-1992 during the Persian Gulf War. She was medically and honorably discharged in 1992. One of her interests is working with Veterans and was fortunate to have worked with Veterans at the Canandaigua, NY VA Medical Center as a Peer Support Specialist working in the Vocational Rehabilitation department under the Behavioral Health Department. 

Prior to the Canandaigua VA she worked with homeless Veterans at the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester New York. In addition, she also volunteers with the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) Washington on the state level working in the Education Committee and the State Planning Committee.  She has a Master's degree in Education and a Bachelor of Science in social work. She comes from a long line of military servicemen including her wonderful husband who is a 20 year retired Army veteran. She enjoys gardening, reading, scrapbooking and going to her son's soccer games in her spare time.

SARAH SUNIGA, PSYD is a clinician at VAPORHCS.

SARAH ONO, PhD is a CIVIC researcher working closely with development and implementation of the VEG and a cultural anthropologist. Dr. Ono has been working in VA since 2009, and joined CIVIC as a Core Investigator in 2014. Working with the VEG Veterans is a bright-spot each month that Sarah looks forward to, along with opportunities to collaborate with VEG members. Along with Drs. Ganzini, Barton, and Saha , Sarah is developing CIVIC's infrastructure for participatory research.


MARY FRANCES RITCHIE, MPH is the CIVIC Veteran Engagement Group (VEG) liaison. Mary Frances completed her MPH in Health Management and Policy at Portland State University in 2014. Past projects include Farm-to-School research and evaluation, evaluations of Kaiser Permanente Healthy Food Access & Thriving Schools, and student engagement in health services delivery, LGBTQ quality improvement, and LGBTQ patient engagement.  


What kinds of research does the VEG give feedback on?

CIVIC Investigators have gotten VEG feedback on the following topics:

  • The effect of PTSD treatment on cognition
  • HSR&D pilot research proposal "Developing a Model for Multi-dimensional Veteran Engagement in HSR&D Research"
  • PCORI research proposal "Comparative Effectiveness of Patient-Centered Strategies to Improve Pain Management and Opioid Safety for Veterans"
  • Veteran Societal Engagement: what are the health effects?
  • Patient symptom experience
  • HSRD Career Development Award (CDA) proposal "Optimizing Veterans' Social Relationship to Enhance Depression Care"
  • Progressive Tinnitus Management Program Project
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis Goal Concordance Project
  • Social Media Surveying
  • Pulmonary Nodule Project "Watch the Spot Trial"
  • Enhancing Appointment Letters to Reduce Missed Visits
  • Longitudinal Analysis of Benefits and Harms of Long-Term Opioid Therapy to Inform an Evidence-Based Decision Support and Communication Tool

How can I get involved as a Veteran in this group or other VE activities at CIVIC?

Email or call the VEG liaison if you are interested in learning more about the group, or interesting in available positions.

Contact information: Mary Frances Ritchie,, 503-220-8262 ext. 55315