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Standing up a Canadian health institute

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) is an innovative organization that engages existing academic research resources and facilitates the development of new research, research capacity and effective knowledge exchange. It was established to optimize the health and well-being of Canadian military personnel, veterans and their families by harnessing and mobilizing the national capacity for high-impact research, knowledge creation and knowledge exchange.

With a network of academic researchers from across Canada, it will serve as a focal point for more than 20 Canadian universities that have agreed to work together in addressing the health research requirements of the military, veterans and their families. The institute will provide a conduit between the academic community, government organizations (National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada) and similar international organizations, and ensure sustainability through increased public awareness and public-private funding.

The CIMVHR is building a pan-Canadian coordinated academic approach. Canada has been alone among its major military allies in not having such a program. With over 700,000 veterans and more than 100,000 serving personnel, we have a significant population with unique risks, exposures and experiences that demands new standards of protection, prevention and care.

This effort is warranted by the exceptional personal sacrifices, on behalf of all Canadians, by current and future generations of Canadian military personnel who serve in Afghanistan and other locations. There has never been greater awareness and support by Canadians, including the academic community, of the “social covenant” between the nation and the veteran.

The institute will be governed by a board of directors representing stakeholders, as well an advisory council to ensure effective links to the beneficiaries, government, industry and the broader research community. CIMVHR is supported by a secretariat located in Kingston, Ontario, and managed by the founding members of the CIMVHR, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada.

The research will be innovative and responsive to meet the requirements of DND and VAC, but it will be arm’s length from the government and sponsors. In addition to focusing on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, the research will have a robust technology development focus to reflect the broader interests and science and technology priorities of researchers and both the federal and provincial governments. Databases are being created to capture current research programs, outstanding research requirements, study populations, funding and resources, and Canadian research teams. Researchers and sponsor organizations will be connected according to needs and interests. Research support services will be provided.

A cornerstone of the CIMVHR is building the next generation to conduct research and providing education on the care and protections relevant to military members, veterans and their families. This will be facilitated through formally certified education programs.

Effective knowledge exchange, as evidenced by the relevancy of the research conducted and the application of knowledge generated, is key to the success of the CIMVHR. Knowledge exchange activities will include an eminent “think tank” on future trends, annual research forums, workshops, regular and targeted communications, peer-reviewed publications, and extensive use of social media.

Interest is high within the academic community to conduct research in military and veteran health, and coordination and funding is required to do so successfully. The institute will address health and well-being issues over the life-course as related to occupational exposures, experiences and environment. These include health consequences – physical, mental and social – that can be unique in their nature, magnitude, long-term effects, delayed presentation and trans-generational implications. Research must consider the unique context of the military, including battlefield medicine, the imperative to maximize fitness for high performance duty, and the unlimited liability to respond to Canadian government direction for operations around the world.

Although research will be focused on the health and well-being of military personnel, veterans and families, it will also benefit those with similar occupational exposures such as first responders (police and fire fighters), humanitarian workers, and indeed Canadians in general. It is hoped that the CIMVHR will answer the needs of the people who served and who are still serving their countries, as well as the people who support them.

Dr. Alice B. Aiken is director of CIMVHR and a professor with Queen’s University School of Rehabilitation Therapy. Dr. Stephanie A.H. Belanger is associate director of CIMVHR and a professor with Royal Military College of Canada French Studies. BGen (Ret’d) William S. Richard is co-chair of the CIMVHR Implementation Committee, adjunct professor, School of Policy Studies at Queen’s Centre for International Relations. Susan Marlin is co-chair of the Implementation Committee and associate vice-principal (Research) at Queen’s.

Author: Alice Aiken, Stéphanie Bélanger, William Richard and Susan Marlin from the Oct/Nov 2011 issue published

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