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Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center - Houston, Texas

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Navy Veteran is 3,000th Houston Enrollee in Million Veteran Program

May 29, 2012

3000 Blankenship

“My primary care doc told me about the Million Veteran Program and I decided to get involved because I think the program will help other Veterans,” said Navy Veteran Gerald Blankenship pictured with Houston MVP Representative Emily Boeckman and Rayan Al Jurdi, M.D., a psychiatrist and co-primary investigator of the MVP at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center.”
PHOTO: Bobbi Gruner

HOUSTON – Today, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) reached the milestone of enrolling 3,000 participants in the Million Veteran Program (MVP): A Partnership with Veterans, and is leading the nation in enrollment efforts.

Navy Veteran Gerald Blankenship was not showered with balloons and confetti when he was told he was the 3,000th Veteran to enroll from the Houston area; however, the Houston MVP staff did present him an “Ask Me About MVP” pin and an enthusiastic round of applause.

“My primary care doc told me about the Million Veteran Program and I decided to get involved because I think the program will help other Veterans,” said Blankenship. “I especially think the younger troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan will benefit most from this research.”

The MEDVAMC is one of 40 VA medical centers serving as an enrollment site for this national, voluntary research program conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Research & Development. The knowledge gained will help better understand how genes affect Veterans’ health and illness, with the ultimate goal of transforming health care.

“It was easy; only a few minutes, gave one small tube of blood, and filled out a questionnaire,” said Blankenship. “Amazing that something so simple can possibly lead to developing treatments for military-related conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder and common medical illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.”

Participants are asked to complete a one-time study visit (approximately 20 minutes in length) to provide a blood sample for genetic analysis. Participation also includes filling out health surveys, allowing on-going access to medical records, and agreeing to future contact. This research program will establish one of the largest databases of genes and health history. MVP aims to enroll as many as one million Veterans over the next five to seven years.

“In only ten months with the help of our primary care teams and laboratory staff, we are making great progress toward reaching our goal of enrolling 20,000 southeast Texas Veterans in the next five years,” said Laura Marsh, M.D., Mental Health Care Line executive and co-primary investigator of the MVP in Houston. Marsh is also a professor at the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine.

Genes are made up of DNA and are inherited. They are the instructions for building and maintaining bodies. Genes determine the color of eyes and hair, height, and other personal traits. Through complex interactions with the environment and various lifestyle factors, certain genes may also contribute to the risk for disease, including illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

“Genes may be a critical part of why some people get diseases and others do not,” said Rayan Al Jurdi, M.D., a MEDVAMC psychiatrist, co-primary investigator of the MVP in Houston, and an associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine. “Genes may also affect how we respond to certain medications. Because of their genetic makeup, some people may respond better than others to a particular treatment, or experience different side effects. Overall, a better understanding of how genes work may help to prevent and improve treatment of disease.”

Results from MVP will help improve health care for not only Veterans, but all Americans. MVP has extensive safeguards in place to keep Veterans’ personal information secure and confidential. Veteran participation does not affect access to VA health care or benefits.

Tammy Natividad, Doralene Smith, R.N., Sarah Torres, and Emily Boeckman are the Houston MVP representatives. They are located at the MEDVAMC in Room 6B-310 and can be reached for an appointment at 713-791-1414, ext. 6911. Walk-ins are also welcomed.

Visit the website of the Million Veteran Program at to learn more. For more information or to participate, call the MVP information center toll-free 1-866-441-6075.

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Awarded re-designation for Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Services in 2008, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center serves as the primary health care provider for more than 130,000 Veterans in southeast Texas and provides some of the most complex care within the VA Health Care System. The DeBakey VA employs nearly 3,600 staff and is one of 49 institutions within the prestigious Texas Medical Center*, one of the largest health and research centers in the world. The DeBakey VA is home to a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Clinic; Network Polytrauma Center; award-winning Cardiac and General Surgery Program; Liver Transplant Center; Epilepsy and Cancer Centers of Excellence; Substance Abuse Disorder Quality Enhancement Research Initiative; Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence; Rehabilitation Research of Excellence focusing on mild to moderate traumatic brain injury; Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center; $26.8 million Research and Development Program; and Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Center. The hospital offers sophisticated, cutting-edge technology such as PET/CT imaging, the Evident™ microwave ablation system, a CyberKnife®, a Varian Trilogy linear accelerator, a Philips Wide Bore Computed Tomography Simulator, the OR•Control System, the Abiomed Impella 2.5 catheter-based heart pump, and the Sapien heart valve. For more than 60 years, the DeBakey VA has served as the primary teaching facility for our major affiliate, Baylor College of Medicine* and operates one of the largest VA residency programs in the nation. Each academic year, more than 2,179 students are trained through 194 affiliation agreements with institutions of higher learning. Including the outpatient clinics in Beaumont, Conroe, Galveston, Houston, Lufkin, Richmond, and Texas City, MEDVAMC outpatient clinics logged almost 1.3 million outpatient visits in fiscal year 2011.
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