Women have been underrepresented in much biological and medical research, leading to knowledge gaps that can result into problems including misdiagnoses and drugs that may affect men and women differently. Although this has been changing in recent years, our minority status in the Veteran population can make it much more difficult for VA researchers to recruit enough women to get statistically valid results. By volunteering to participate in VA research, women Veterans can make a big difference for other Veterans of today – and the future.
One fantastic opportunity is the Million Veteran Program (MVP). The goal of MVP is to enable genomic discoveries that can translate to improvements in the healthcare of Veterans – and the nation at large – and to create the foundation for precision medicine in VA. It aims to build one of the world’s largest databases of genomic, clinical, lifestyle, and military exposure information by enrolling at least one million participants, and is over halfway there.
Unfortunately, so far only 8 percent of MVP enrollees are women. The goal is to increase the number to at least 11 percent in order to have enough women involved for the results to be statistically valid. That means that we have to sign up at higher rates than men, since we represent less than 10 percent of the Veteran population – but so far, we haven’t been doing so.
This database will serve as a national resource for an unprecedented scope of discovery, including in precision medicine, by making the coded data available to a broad community of researchers from federal and academic institutions. By looking at genetic make-up along with health and disease information in a very large number of Veterans with and without a disease, researchers may be able to identify people with increased risk for specific diseases, when prevention of a disease is possible, or when early treatment would be helpful. This research could improve treatment by identifying people who will respond well to certain medicine, reducing serious side effects, and leading to the development of new treatments by learning how genes contribute to disease. Only with the participation of enough women Veterans will be able to ensure that we, our sisters, and our daughters will benefit from these important advances, too.
Enrolling is simple – I know, because I signed up last year and took less than an hour. VHA health care users can check out this interactive map of all VA sites that are currently enrolling and then either schedule an appointment by calling 866-441-6075 or just walk in to a local MVP clinic to participate today. You’ll be given enough information to give informed consent to participate, asked to complete and return a brief “Baseline Survey,” provide one blood sample and access to your electronic health record, and then answer additional questions about your health and lifestyle habits. Learn more here.
Enrolling in the Million Veteran Program is an easy way that you can continue serving your fellow Veterans and your nation. Learn more about why others are signing up, and join me in this important health research initiative. Women Veterans of today – and tomorrow – are counting on us to make a difference in research that could save their lives. Celebrate Women’s History Month by participating in this historic research initiative!