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Newsletter | South Central MIRECC

Banner of the SC MIRECC communique newsletter

Spring 2019, Volume 21, Issue 2 - In this Issue

Thoughts on the VA Research Experience from a Veteran’s Point of View
Research to Practice | Increasing Participation of Iraq- and Afghanistan Veterans in Research
New Clinical Demonstration Project TheraMetrics Begins
Researchers Awarded Pilot Study Research Grants
Recent Publications
Pilot Study Research Program Applications Due July 1
Implementation, Design and Analysis Support Available for Affiliates

Research to Practice | Increasing Participation of Iraq- and Afghanistan Veterans in Research

Summary by Sonora Hudson, MA and Derrecka Boykin, PhD

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Researchers in Seattle and New Orleans, representing both the Department of Veterans Health Administration and the South Central MIRECC, among other research groups, recently reported results of 10 focus groups of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) Veterans regarding participation in health-related research.

This study was a formative exercise to help researchers understand why OEF/OIF Veterans, who were exposed to open-air waste burning during their service, might participate in a parent study examining associations between land-based deployment and pulmonary health. The current study occurred between September and November 2015 and involved six to 12 Veterans per group from five cities. The underlying motivation was to prevent over-recruitment of Veterans with pulmonary symptoms.

Eligible Veterans had to have served between October 1, 2001 and December 31, 2012, had at least one deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, among other Middle Eastern countries, and completed active duty as of December 31, 2012. Veterans living within 50 miles of focus-group sites were invited to participate. Focus groups were held in hotel meeting rooms and led by a doctoral-level moderator who was not a VHA employee. There were some women-only, men-only, and enlisted-only groups to increase comfort and encourage open dialogue. The approximately two-hour sessions were audio-recorded. Veterans completed a written survey afterward and received $150 compensation.

Three main reasons for participating in health research were identified as follows:

  • Adequate compensation for participation,
  • A desire to help other Veterans, and
  • Perception of the research topic as relevant and important.

Reasons for not participating in health research were identified as follows:

  • Relative costs (time, inconvenience, etc.), and
  • Risks related to privacy and information security and/or losing benefits and risks related to study participation (for example, risks of experimental drugs or treatments).

Veterans preferred to be recruited by first receiving print materials by regular mail (rather than email), followed-up by a phone call involving a message (for individuals who do not answer calls from unknown numbers). They also valued transparency in materials and distrusted vague language, preferring concise writing. They appeared not to mind actively participating in activities during allotted study time but did not appreciate having to wait.

Acceptable questionnaire length was 15 to 30 minutes. Preferred method of payment was by cash or check on the day of participation. A gift card to a specific store was not appealing. Veterans also appreciated receiving overall study results.

Overarching themes, say the researchers, were trust, transparency and respect, emphasizing the need to establish rapport. Suggestions include providing generous compensation; preparing an agenda for in-person study visits; and being efficient, professional and punctual. Because many Veterans seemed not to understand how research is conducted, it is important to discuss how data sharing, for example, among involved agencies works. Other suggestions were simple, such as posting materials in a large, rather than a small, envelope to avoid their being inadvertently tossed.

The authors conclude by encouraging researchers to solicit feedback from members of their target population regarding recruitment materials and methods, relevance and dissemination in an effort to ensure patient-centered research/results.

Download the article at

*MIRECC Affiliates in bold

Citation: Littman AJ, True G, Ashmore E, Wellens T, & Smith NL (2018). How can we get Iraq- and Afghanistan-deployed US Veterans to participate in health-related research? Findings from a national focus group study. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18, 88.


Last updated: April 29, 2019