(VA photo/ Robert Turtil)

Sec. Bob McDonald and Dr. Mike Gaziano, principal investigator for VA’s Million Veteran Program participated in a panel discussion on Veteran participation in precision medicine initiatives. (VA photo/ Robert Turtil)

Veterans and VA’s Million Veteran Program were featured as part of the discussion at the White House’s  Precision Medicine Initiative Summit on Thursday. In January 2015, President Obama launched the initiative with the bold goal of accelerating biomedical discovery and to give clinicians new tools, knowledge and therapies to tailor treatments to individuals.

As a part of the initiative, VA launched the Million Veteran Program (MVP) to learn how genes affect an individual’s health. The research program aims to improve the health of our Veterans by linking genetic, clinical, lifestyle and military-exposure information, by learning more about the role of genes in health and disease. To date, more than 450,000 Veterans, including the secretary himself, have voluntarily donated  blood samples to what is becoming one of the largest genetic databases.

“Our Precision Medicine Initiative has been designed to get all these various building blocks brought together so that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,” President Obama said.  “So that, for example, the VA — which has been gathering genomic data on a large number of our men and women who have served this country in order to serve them better within the VA system — can make them connect with researchers at a particular university who are focused on a particular disease, and can we use big data to accelerate the research process much more rapidly.”

Joining the secretary for a panel discussion was Dr. Mike Gaziano, one of the principal investigators of the Million Veteran Program, and Jeannette Mezquita, a Navy Veteran who continues to serve in the Navy Reserves. The panel was moderated by D.J. Patil, the deputy chief technology officer for data policy and the chief data scientist in the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Under the care of VA, Mezquita was diagnosed with cancer of the uterus. At the request of multiple VA physicians, she went for genetic screening to assess her risk for other cancers. The doctors discovered that she has genetic indicators for high risk of colon cancer.

“For me, finding out, it was a little bit of a shocker, but at the same time it was a blessing because I know that VA does anything for me to prevent any cancer cells from producing,” said Mezquita. Her VA physicians aggressively monitor her health and she has regular colonoscopies to get ahead of the disease. “For me the genetics testing has worked wonders, for my family as well, so I am very grateful for it,” she added.

Because of Veterans’ altruistic nature, they can continue to serve their country, and the next generation of Veterans, by enrolling in MVP.

“I’ve been working in VA in one capacity or another for 30 years, starting as a medical student, and the first thing you realize about a Veteran when they come in is that they are hardwired for service, service to others. And if there’s a gene for service to others, we’ll find it in our Veterans,“ said Dr. Gaziano.

On Thursday, February 25th, President Obama will participate in a panel discussion as part of the White House Precision Medicine Initiative Summit. The summit will also feature remarks from patients, researchers and other PMI stakeholders and a discussion on the Million Veteran Program with Robert A. McDonald, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.   Since President Obama launched the Precision Medicine Initiative in January 2015, the Administration has made significant progress in advancing its goals of ushering a new era of medicine that delivers the right treatment at the right time to the right person. The President will discuss this progress as well as the next steps in continuing to build momentum and collaborations in this important field. (VA photo/ Robert Turtil)

(VA photo/ Robert Turtil)

Someone as high profile as Secretary McDonald, who recently submitted his sample into the program, feels comfortable that his privacy will be protected. Donated samples are stored in the VA central research database without name, address, date of birth and or other identifying information. Rather, samples and data are labeled with a code. Researchers who are approved access to analyze the samples and data do not receive any personal identifiable information of participating Veterans.

“I’ve been through the entire operation, I’ve looked at the way we protect the data, we protect the biological specimens. I have no concerns about privacy or anything like that. I think we do a very strong job of doing that,” McDonald said.

Looking forward, McDonald is confident that  VA will reach their goal of one million Veteran participants and he hopes that research will find better ways to provide treatment not only to Veterans, but patients all over the world.

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Published on Feb. 26, 2016

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  1. Conserned Wife February 28, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Well it seems that things have NOT changed much at the Indiana VA Medical. I have watched my husband be treated like crap over the past 10 years. They tell him there is nothing they can do for him except give him another pill. I recently had knee surgery. And we asked my surgeon is there anything y can do for me. My surgeon said yes. My husband has RA in all his joints and my surgeon couldn’t believe howVA just tossed him aside. Plus my husband has Chronic Pain he has been on the same dose for the past 10 years and NO ONE will help him. He has gone through the Pain Management Depth. And the doctor he had treated him like shit. Told him to get out of her office and didn’t want to see him again. She also cut him off his anxiety meds and he was going out of his mind. What is it going to take to get u all in Washington DC to do something.

  2. James Allen Miller February 28, 2016 at 8:07 am

    I am a Viet Nam Vet with a limited retirement income. I would like to buy a modestly priced town house or single family home in the Orlando (32810) area. However, I am a surviving cancer patient (in full remission for almost 6 years, thank GOD!) whose savings and credit have been destroyed (averaging 520) by medical bills that are so huge that the Medicare copays are usurious. The rent on my current apartment was jacked up over $100 per month with no end in sight. At $820 per month it now rivals a mortgage payment. Will the VA help me?

  3. Jeffery McNair February 27, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Hello to CEO or person in charge of DAV. I was trying to reach you and couldn’t really figure out how to do it. Iam a navy veteran trying to live in the philipines now. The problem I present to you sir is my old law firm had to reach me and in doing so somehow they did by way of St. Peters urge DAV were I received here in Philipines about two weeks ago.A voucher for refunds and the amount is on the voucher filled out by me and telling whoever in that department my information to get the money into my bank account. Didn’t quit know how to get this job done so iam typing who I think can help me cause I need my funds to continue to get my house built here here cause iam stuck now. Somebody please help me ok.

  4. Rebecca K Henderson February 27, 2016 at 12:48 am

    I don’t see how this nurse who works for the VA could get any information about her genetics because when you sign up they tell you that you will not find out anything pertaining to your participation. They won’t tell you if you have the cancer gene for your colon, as she said, or if you will get a brain tumor, or become diabetic, or anything. I refused to participate because I felt they would use it against me. As it is, I feel like I get the worst care I have ever had in my life.

  5. Luis F. Lora-Sigollen February 26, 2016 at 7:33 pm

    Iam a Viet Nam veteran with an honorable discharge I was deported from the USA I served in the military with dignity
    and and ready to give my life for the country that became my home
    . Please fight congress to change that law. I thought that once you serve to protect the country you become it son and daughter forever.

  6. Rainer P Warner February 26, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    I was diagnosed with CFIDS chronic fatigue immunodeficiency syndrome. ..as soon as I was asked to participate in this program I was excited to. The VA has done so much for in trying to cope with this incurable unexplained illness; so I was ready to help in hopes research will be considered to give hope to others which share this incomprehensible disease.

  7. William H. Gillespie 11 February 26, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    If asked, I would gladly help out with this program. I am about to under go Major surgery on the artery’s on the bottom of my heart. I am grateful that the V.A. caught this and I am not going to have a heart attack or stroke!

  8. Tim Pike February 26, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I was asked to participate in this program an declined because I had no idea what it was about and how the information would be used nor what level of visibility (or scrutiny) was assigned to the program. After reading this article, I would volunteer for the program. You should devise a system to reach out to those who have already declined, link them to articles such as this, and re-engage them for participation.

    • Derrick Morin February 29, 2016 at 10:13 am

      Hi Tim,
      Thank you for your interest in MVP! We are always open to new ways to reach out – it can be difficult connecting with those who have already declined participation. You are able to contact the dedicated MVP Information Center toll-free at 866-441-6075. They can assist with answering questions, sending additional information or scheduling an appointment with MVP staff.
      Thanks again,

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