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VA Researchers Who Served: Dr. Jason Flake



VA North Texas Health Care System

July 28, 2022

Dr. Jason Flake, a research scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System, is an investigator for studies on mental health, addiction, and social dysfunction for justice-involved Veterans.  (Photo by Jennifer Roy)
Dr. Jason Flake, a research scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System, is an investigator for studies on mental health, addiction, and social dysfunction for justice-involved Veterans. (Photo by Jennifer Roy)

Dr. Jason Flake, a research scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System, is an investigator for studies on mental health, addiction, and social dysfunction for justice-involved Veterans. (Photo by Jennifer Roy)

Dr. Jason Flake, an Air Force Veteran, is a research scientist at the VA North Texas Health Care System. His research focuses on mental health, addiction, and social dysfunction in justice-involved Veterans, in relation to rehabilitation needs and barriers. Currently, he’s leading a project in which formerly incarcerated Veterans collaborate with their health care providers to identify important goals, including employment, housing, and substance use treatment.

Flake previously spent 20 years as a law enforcement officer in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex in Texas. He earned a master’s degree in criminal justice and criminology and a doctorate in public administration and public policy from the University of Texas at Arlington. He served for four years in the Air Force, earning such honors as the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal, and the Southwest Asia Service Medal.



What motivated you to join the military?

I come from a military family. My grandfather, uncle, and father served in the military up until retirement. Since I can remember, I have always had a positive military influence in my life. This came from growing up on and around military installations, having close bonds with my parent’s friends who were in the military, and having childhood friends whose parents served in the military.

My motivation to join the military is grounded in a somewhat humbling story. My parents have always stressed the importance of higher education. After graduating high school, I attended a local university. However, I did not have any direction on what I wanted to do with my life, and my academics suffered as a result. I was placed on academic suspension. After long discussions with my father, I decided to enlist in the Air Force with a guaranteed job in security forces.

I will say this unequivocally: Enlisting in the military was the best decision I ever made, and I would do it again without hesitation. My time in the military provided me with life lessons, allowed me to mature, cultivated the values of pride, hard work, and selflessness, and helped provide clarity on my future career goals. 



What inspired your research career?

My research career and interests come from a combination of factors. First, as a Veteran, I am passionate about helping my fellow Veteran community. Second, as a retired law enforcement officer, I have a firsthand, unique insight into the negative impact of substance use and mental health disorders on people, their families, and society. As I began honing my research interests during my doctoral program, I made the easy decision of combining my passion for helping Veterans with my firsthand experience in mental health and substance use disorders to focus on the social rehabilitation of justice-involved Veterans.



Did you have mentors who inspired you in life, the military, or your research career?

Although I have had many mentors who have inspired me, my parents are the most influential. They have always been a positive influence on me throughout my life. They have pushed me to be a better person by instilling the core values of trust, integrity, hard work, and honesty. Those values have helped me in the military, graduate school, and research. My parents saw the value in hard work and higher education. From an early age, they always encouraged me to be a more well-rounded person through higher education. Even when times were tough, they would remind me that hard work has its benefits. They used to say, “Nothing worth having comes easy,” which is always at the front of my mind whenever I’ve encountered difficult or challenging times.

My Air Force career was highlighted by several mentors who were senior noncommissioned officers and commanding officers. Throughout my career, I benefited from their mentorship. They pushed me to become a better airman and person. This was through setting and attaining high standards for myself and my unit through advanced education and training opportunities, advanced promotional opportunities, unit readiness standards, and applying the principle of “service before self” in accomplishing assignments and duties.

At my last duty assignment, my immediate supervisor and commanding officer at Howard Air Force Base in Panama encouraged and supported my decision to pursue my undergraduate degree. They helped me transition from the military to civilian life and aided my pursuit of higher education through their experience with educational benefits paperwork.

In my research career, I have benefited tremendously from my current mentors, Dr. James LePage and Dr. Steven Arxer. While we all share a common interest and passion for helping justice-involved Veterans, each mentor adds unique value based on their specific background and strengths. Dr. LePage has been my mentor since I began the Advanced Addiction Fellowship at the Dallas VA. His in-depth knowledge of the relationship between substance use, mental health, and social dysfunction and incarceration—as well as VA research policies and procedures—has been immeasurable in my development. The fellowship provides two years of post-doctoral research, education, and clinical learning opportunities. Graduates become leaders in developing, conducting, and evaluating addiction treatment research, education, and care.

Dr. Arxer, who specializes in qualitative data, has been instrumental in my professional development. His ability to relate to qualitative theory, data development, and data analyses are essential to my current research initiative.

While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, Jason Flake became part of a team that deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Jason Flake)
While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, Jason Flake became part of a team that deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Jason Flake)

While stationed at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas, Jason Flake became part of a team that deployed to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990s. (Photo courtesy of Jason Flake)



When and where did you serve in the military? Describe your military experience.

I enlisted in the Air Force and served from 1990 to 1994. My first assignment was at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. Shortly after arriving there, I deployed as part of a 44-man security forces team to Dhahran Air Base in Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm. After returning from deployment, I received orders to go to Howard Air Force Base in Panama. I was stationed at Howard until I made the decision to leave the military in 1994 to pursue my undergraduate degree.

My military experience was awesome, both personally and professionally. I met some amazing people during the course of my enlistment. The bonds I created were so strong that I remain in close contact with many of the friends I made in the military.

My time in the military provided me with the opportunity to grow and mature as a person. I went from not having much direction when I initially enlisted to having a clarity on what I wanted to do and how I was going to accomplish my goals. 



What kinds of research are you involved in? How does it potentially impact Veterans?

My research agenda focuses on the social rehabilitation of vulnerable populations. I specifically focus on the intersection of substance use, mental health, unemployment, and housing instability among justice-involved Veterans.

My work has two primary arms. The first focuses on preventing incarceration and the second focuses on making the transition from incarceration to a more successful civilian life. My first focus aims to identify the factors associated with incarceration, with the intent of identifying Veterans at risk of incarceration and getting them the services they need in a timely manner. The second focus aims to impact the barriers to treatment and rehabilitation in order make the transition from incarceration to community more successful.

Our research could provide far-reaching benefits for Veterans, their families, and society. By impacting incarceration and the associated factors, the financial and personal costs and burdens associated with incarceration could be lessened. This would not only benefit Veterans themselves, but equally important, their families and society.



Did your military experience inspire you to pursue a career as a VA researcher? Is your military experience connected in some way to your VA research?

My military experience did not directly inspire me to pursue a career as a VA researcher. However, as a Veteran, I have a passion for helping the Veteran community, which I do through my work as a VA researcher, volunteering, and making donations to local Veteran nonprofit groups.

Shortly after entering my doctoral program, I was encouraged to put significant thought into my dissertation topic. As a law enforcement officer, I knew I was going to apply my past experience and knowledge to my chosen topic—law enforcement. But I was unsure exactly what direction I would take.

Around that time, I remember reading a quote by Mark Twain that said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” I decided at that moment that I would combine my passion for helping the Veteran community with my law enforcement experience in developing my dissertation topic and research agenda.

My dissertation focused on the impact of Veteran identity on court programming within Veteran treatment courts. I used this research as a springboard for being accepted into the Advanced Addiction Research Fellowship following graduation. Following successful completion of the fellowship, I remained at the Dallas VA to conduct mentored research on justice-involved Veterans.



How do you feel about the possibility of making life better for Veterans through your research?

The ability to positively impact Veterans through my research is the driving force behind my work as a VA researcher. I routinely receive positive feedback from Veterans who thank me and our team for conducting research on the justice-involved Veteran population. Veterans often indicate the need for rehabilitation-based research and commend us for focusing on their unique needs and trying to make a positive impact on their lives.



Does being a Veteran give you a greater emotional tie to the work you’re doing or more insight into Veterans’ needs?

Absolutely! My primary reason for working as a researcher at VA is based on my passion to help my fellow Veterans. VA is where I want to be. It provides the perfect platform for my research agenda, which focuses on the social rehabilitation of vulnerable populations like justice-involved Veterans.

As a Veteran, I am uniquely qualified to understand the needs of Veterans. Veterans can often be skeptical of ‘outsiders’ or someone who hasn’t experienced what they have experienced. This often translates into distrust of researchers. I firmly believe that my status as a Veteran in research helps increase the level of trust among the Veteran community.

In addition, as a retired law enforcement officer, I believe I have unique insight into the problems facing the justice-involved Veteran community. I have seen how substance use, mental health disorders, unemployment, and housing instability negatively impact people and their families.



Based on your life experiences to date, what do you believe are the keys to success? What motivational tips would you share?

The key to success is to determine what you are passionate about and then pursue those passions. If you are doing what you love to do, then the rest comes easy. I am also a firm believer that through hard work and determination, anything is possible. I believe I’m an example of those principles. I went from being enlisted in the Air Force to attaining my doctorate and being a research scientist in VA.



What’s the next step for you in your VA career?

My overall goal is to become a fully funded health scientist and to continue addressing the unique needs of justice-involved Veterans. I will continue to focus on preventing Veteran incarceration and applying whole health principles to incarceration rehabilitation by pursuing a career development award or a merit award.



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