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Career milestones

thumbnail Rowing researcher—Natalie Dell (right), who helps coordinate mental health research at the Bedford (Mass.) VA Medical Center, was part of the U.S. women's rowing team that won a bronze medal in the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Natalie Dell, MPH, a project manager for mental health research at the Bedford (Mass.) VA Medical Center, was part of the U.S. women's quad rowing team that won a bronze medal at the Olympics on Aug. 1. Dell, who earned her undergraduate degree at Penn State University and her master's in public health at Boston University, has been with VA since 2009. She works for the Center for Health Quality, Outcomes and Economic Research, one of several centers nationwide funded by VA's Health Services Research and Development Service. Initially a full-time employee at the center, she would begin her days at 4 a.m. with two or three hours of training, followed by eight hours of work and another three hours of training in the evening. As her Olympics training intensified, she switched to part-time and telecommuted from Princeton, N.J., and San Diego, where the U.S. women's national rowing team trains.

JoAnne Robbins, PhDJoAnne Robbins, PhD, associate director of research for the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wis., will receive the Honors of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) award during the group's annual meeting in November. Robbins will take part in the event with six other Honors recipients, as well as with guest speakers Maya Angelou and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Dee "Gabby" Giffords. The Honors is ASHA's most prestigious award, given to those whose work has "changed the course of their profession." Robbins is the founder and director of the University of Wisconsin and VA's Swallowing Speech And Dining Enhancement Program. The program has been recognized for its leading-edge work on care and rehabilitation for swallowing disorders. In one recent VA study, Robbins' team compared the outcomes of four different exercise programs for Veterans and others experiencing swallowing difficulty following stroke. Her work has influenced not only speech pathology but also related fields such as neurology, otolaryngology, gastroenterology, gerontology, neuro-rehabilitation, and nutrition.

James Sowers, MDJames Sowers, MD, a research scientist at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans Hospital in Columbia, Mo., is the 2012 recipient of the Irvine Page-Alva Bradley Lifetime Achievement Award in Hypertension, given by the American Heart Association. Sowers' research has focused on exploring the links among diabetes, heart disease, and kidney disease. In particular, his team has recently examined how the excess oxidative stress brought on by obesity contributes to these chronic diseases.

Presidential awards to four VA researchers

Four VA researchers were recently among 96 recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor given by the U.S. government to federal researchers in the early stages of their careers. Joining fellow award recipients from 11 other federal agencies were VA investigators Jeffrey R. Capadona, PhD, Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center; Charlesnika T. Evans, PhD, Hines (Ill.) VA Hospital; Amy M. Kilbourne, PhD, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System; and K. Luan Phan, MD, Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago. The ceremony took place at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

Jeffrey R. Capadona, PhDCapadona was recognized for his discoveries in the area of biomaterials, including research aimed at enabling the use of long-term implantable electrodes in the brain or elsewhere in the nervous system. Electrodes developed by Capadona's team may eventually be integrated into assistive devices designed to restore sight, hearing, movement, and speech to injured Veterans.

 Charlesnika T. Evans, PhDEvans was recognized for pioneering work to reduce the incidence of infectious disease among patients with spinal cord injury (SCI). She was project manager and co-investigator for research that more than doubled the vaccination rate of those with SCI. Now she is leading the first large-scale study on treatment and outcomes for SCI patients infected by Clostridium difficile, a germ that can lead to severe gastrointestinal conditions.

 Amy M. Kilbourne, PhDKilbourne was honored for putting her advanced knowledge of complex datasets to work improving mental health care for Veterans. Her research was instrumental in implementing an outreach program to identify and re-engage Veterans with serious mental illness who were lost to follow-up. She also developed and led one of VA's largest educational and research initiatives to help Veterans with bipolar disorder.

 K. Luan Phan, MDPhan, a neuroscientist, was nominated for his research on posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury in Veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. By keying in on how medication and psychotherapy treatments work in the brain and identifying potential biomarkers, Phan aims to help guide clinicians and patients toward those treatments with the highest chance for success.

Established by the White House in 1996, the PECASE honors are given each year for "innovative research at the frontiers of science and technology" and a commitment to community service.

Elizabeth Martin Yano, PhD, MSPH, won the 2012 Under Secretary's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research-the highest honor for a VA health services researcher Elizabeth Martin Yano, PhD, MSPH, won the 2012 Under Secretary's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research—the highest honor for a VA health services researcher.

Under Secretary's Award for primary-care researcher

Elizabeth Martin Yano, PhD, MSPH, won the 2012 Under Secretary's Award for Outstanding Achievement in Health Services Research—the highest honor for a VA health services researcher. Yano is co-director of VA's Center for the Study of Healthcare Provider Behavior in Sepulveda, Calif., and has been part of the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System for more than 20 years. Yano's research focuses on improving primary care for Veterans. She is currently helping to evaluate VA's implementation of the new Patient-Aligned Care Teams (PACT) model of primary care. She is also lead investigator for the National VA Women's Health Research Consortium and Practice-Based Research Network. In addition to her VA research and mentorship, Yano is an adjunct professor at the UCLA School of Public Health and a faculty mentor at the UCLA/VA Clinical Scholars Program and UCLA National Research Service Award Primary Care Fellowship Program. VA's Health Services Research and Development Service cited her as "productive, dedicated to the VA and Veterans, innovative, and a major leader within the research and clinical communities. Her career has seamlessly integrated scientific research of the highest caliber with boots-on-the-ground, substantive contributions to VA clinical operations."

Award for research videos

A series of videos produced by the communications team of VA's Office of Research and Development won first place in the Web-based media category in the 2012 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Communications Awards. The videos, part of a series called "Stories of Hope," premiered during National VA Research Week 2012 and have netted more than 40,000 views on VHA's YouTube channel ( and in other online venues. Among the topics covered in the series: the DEKA advanced prosthetic arm, research on traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder, the Million Veteran Program, and a partnership with Veterans Service Organizations to tackle hypertension among Veterans. The videos were produced by John Borlik, a visual information specialist with VA Research Communications, in conjunction with VA's Employee Education Service.

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Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.