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Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC)


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Veteran Engagement Group

Pictured: John Neibert, Jennie Boster, John Lind, Sarah Ono, Lisa Neibert, Mary Frances Ritchie

Left to Right: Jennie Boster, Mary Frances Ritchie, John Neibert, Cassandra Krawec-Paul, John Lind, Lisa Neibert, Linda Ganzini, and Sarah Ono

The Veteran Engagement Group discussing research.
Researchers value the input received in the Veteran Engagement Group.

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. 

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

Veterans bring important perspectives to the research process and as users of the health care system we are working to improve, thier input holds the potential to increase the relevance and uptake of research into clinical practice. The Veteran community has unique nees 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.

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

Veteran Voices: Veterans share their experiences with VA care
Who are the VEG Members?

Jennie Boster
Jennie Boster
Biography 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
Cody Graham
Biography 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
Irisa Grimes
Biography Irisa 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
Maurice "Alex" Harkins
Biography 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
Cassandra Krawec-Paul
Biography 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
John Lind
Biography 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.
Lisa Neibert
Lisa Neibert
Biography 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 Ono, PhD
Sarah Ono, PhD
Biography Sarah Ono, PhD is a CIVIC researcher and a cultural anthropologist. Dr. Ono has been working in VA since 2009, and joined CIVIC as a Core Investigator in 2014. Along with Drs. Ganzini, Barton, and Saha, Dr. Ono is developing CIVIC's infrastructure for participatory research and working closely in the development and implementation of the VEG. Working with the VEG Veterans is a bright-spot each month that she looks forward to, along with opportunities to collaborate with VEG members.
Rachel Matsumoto, MS
Rachel Matsumoto, MS
Biography Rachel Matsumoto, MS hails from the great state of California. She studied social psychology at Montana State before moving to Portland. In 2017, Rachel joined the CIVIC team and took over the role of VEG Liaison in 2018. She enjoys running, keeping her dog (Layla) entertained, and checking out all the restaurants the city has to offer.

 Alex Harkins discussing research with the Veteran Engagement Group


Rachel Matsumoto
Veteran Engagement Liaison
Portland VA Medical Center
503-220-8262 Ext. 51857

Veteran Engagement Spotlight

Picture of Will Moore
Will Moore is a Navy Veteran who served as a Surface Warfare Officer commissioned at Oregon State University. Currently, Will is a medical student at OHSU as well as the newest member of CIVIC's VEG. In the Navy, Will "really enjoyed the aspects of navigation, as well as launching and recovering aircrafts." He feels a sense of honor to have served with "incredible crews, alongside some of the hardest working and brightest minds in the armed forces."
Will is motivated to participate in VEG by the "hope to provide researchers and health professionals the feedback needed to improve their efforts." He feels that VEG "gives unique perspectives to investigators and programs effecting change." Will has seen the passion behind each VEG members' participation; he adds, "the researchers within the VA have proven to be equally energized and interested in bettering care" for Veterans. Through VEG, Will connects with the Veteran community, "since moving to Portland, VEG was the first connection to Veterans I made since separating in 2018."

Fun Fact: Will's time outside of VEG is filled with school and family. He is a third year medical student at OHSU studying Family Medicine and has a 15 month old son.
Picture of Cassandra Krawec-Paul
Cassandra Krawec-Paul is any Army Veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and is a founding member of VEG. Cassandra joined VEG for the same reasons she joined the Army, "to give to others and to be a part of something bigger than myself" and she continues to be a member of the group because her drive to remain connected to the Veteran community, to be helpful and to give back is strong. Through VEG, Cassandra has learned how dedicated others are to caring for Veterans, "the researchers care about doing good for the Veteran community [by making sure they] get care and programs to enrich their lives." In addition to that, she has learned a lot about the inner workings of health services research, "there are a lot of behind-the-scenes actions that no one really understands...It is a lot of detailed work and I am glad that the research department puts in so much time and effort to help Veterans."
Outside of her dedication to VEG, Cassandra remains connected to the Veteran community through Veteran organizations such as DAV (Disabled American Veterans) and the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). She also connects with Veterans through Facebook and through volunteering at her son's school, with sports, and with the Boy Scouts. She says she loves to help other Veterans by haring information, "when I was in the Army, I was always helping my soldiers to get them information and tools to better themselves." Cassandra has carried these habits forward and is always helping Veterans in her community, "I did help an Air Force Veteran get a service dog through the program I received my service dog."

Fun Fact:Cassandra loves singing karaoke. "I started my singing career while in the Army bonding with my fellow soldiers."
Picture of Stan Eubanks
Stan Eubanks is a retired Vietnam and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veteran. He served in the Army for 3 years, in the Army Reserves for 7 years and in the Oregon National Guard for 17 years. During his time in the military, Stan wore many hats. He was an engineer instructor, a courier, an occupational therapy assistant, a combat medic, and an infantryman. Stan, a newer member of VEG, says that he is motivated to participate because he uses VA health care and believes that his experiences as a patient are valuable. He adds, "as a medical sergeant in the Army, I experienced how the soldiers received the injuries that led to their ability to utilize the VA system." Stan identifies the "professionalism and commitment" of CIVIC investigators as something he has learned about through VEG. When he's not spending his time at monthly VEG meetings, Stan engages with the Veteran community through his memberships with the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

Fun Fact: Stan is a "diehard" Los Angeles Dodgers and Oregon Ducks football fan.
Picture of Lisa Neibert
Lisa Neibert is a Gulf War era Air Force Veteran. She was originally recruited to CIVIC’s VEG by her husband, a retired Army Veteran and early VEG member, and has remained active in the group since 2016. Lisa shared that as soon as she attended her first VEG meeting, she felt the group was a good fit for her on many levels, “I thought this was a great committee to be on as a member and as a Veteran. CIVIC VEG gives us Veterans a chance to see what research is coming ahead and what issues may affect us directly and gives us a chance to voice our concerns. When asked about her continued participation, Lisa said, “what motivates me to participate in VEG are the members in our particular group. I have been with them for several years and really enjoy our comradery. I also enjoy the investigators as many of the same investigators have been back to present on new topics. I like knowing we do have a voice and it can be heard!” Her favorite part of VEG is the constant learning, “I have always been fascinated [with] research and just when I think I have heard all I can on a particular subject area, an investigator will come in with…new information and knowledge.” In the end, Lisa’s favorite thing to learn at meetings is “how VEG has made an impact on our VISN and other VISNs across the country.” Outside of VEG, Lisa is very engaged with the Veteran community, she participates in VA sponsored activities such as Veteran-centric yoga and VA stand downs. Additionally, she volunteers with a non-profit Veteran agency in her area.

Fun Fact: Lisa makes personalized photobooks for her loved ones to commemorate important events. She has made several wedding scrapbooks for her close friends and special photobooks for her mother's 75th and her brother's 50th birthdays. She says it's "something I really enjoy."
Picture of Maurice "Alex" Harkins
Alex Harkins is a Vietnam era Navy Veteran and an active member of the CIVIC VEG since 2015. Alex was inspired to engage in VA because he receives his care from VA and “wanted to give back”. Initially he did this through volunteering, participating in research, and sitting on various committees. After some goading from an existing member, Alex decided to give VEG a try: “needless to say, I fit in well and am still [here]. While I have dropped other committees, I remain with the VEG because it is downright fun.” In addition to VEG, Alex volunteers with My HealtheVet and Secure Messaging at VA Portland Health Care System and is active in the US Naval Academy Alumni Association of Oregon and SW Washington. When asked about what he has learned from being engaged in VEG, Alex says that he learns a lot about what VA does for Veterans and is able to take this information to his provider at future visits. Alex adds that “sometimes being involved pays dividends.”

Fun Fact: Alex’s first roommate at the US Naval Academy affectionately nicknamed him “Tex” after his home state (and his accent). To this day, Alex goes by “Tex” alumni meetings.
Picture of John Lind
John Lind is a Vietnam era Army Veteran and has been a member of CIVIC’s VEG since its inception in 2015. When asked about his continued commitment to VEG, John shared that his motivation to participate monthly comes from the fact that VEG gives him the opportunity to interact directly with influential VA researchers. John believes that Veteran engagement is important because CIVIC researchers “have specific questions that need a Veteran’s answer,” and VEG gives him the space to provide representation for the Veteran community. “Talking with researchers about current subjects that are going to be funded or are currently funded was exciting because they wanted to hear our voice.” In addition to helping researchers learn what is important to Veterans, John has been able to learn about various research topics (such as tinnitus, opiates, and lung cancer), as well as gain insight into the collaborative process of research. “Your voice is important and there’s not just one perspective in a room, your background is going to make a difference in how you see things.” Aside from VEG, John continues to contribute to the Veteran community by participating as a non-scientific board member of The VA Portland Health Care System Institutional Review Board, and is a lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of America and First Cavalry Airmobile.

Fun Fact:John is a marching snare drummer and has been the director of his marching band entitled, “Get a Life Marching Band,” for the last 20 years.
Picture of John Lind
"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.