Providence, RI – Today, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announced legislation to give clear authority to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to enter partnerships with academic medical institutions to share clinical resources, conduct research, and improve health care for veterans. He also applauded the Senate’s passage of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill this week. The report accompanying the bill includes a provision, added at Whitehouse’s request, encouraging the VA to pursue such partnerships.
“Rhode Island is home to a promising collaboration between first-rate research institutions, our leading hospitals, and the Providence VA. That type of partnership has potential to unlock new and better treatments for veterans and improve the care they receive from the VA. But the VA has expressed uncertainty about its authority to engage in that sort of collaboration. My bill would simply make it clear that the VA can and should engage with outside research partners,” said Whitehouse. “I’m glad to see the Senate include my language encouraging these valuable partnerships in the appropriations report. I hope my colleagues will also support my bill to advance VA research and bring better care to our vets.”
The VA has indicated that it does not have proper authority under current law to partner with academic research institutions to share resources like research space, access to clinical services and direct patient care, and employee time. The bill Whitehouse has announced, the Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Act, would give the VA explicit authority to team up with medical schools and university health science centers to share those resources. These partnerships would allow the VA to increase access to medical personnel, specialized equipment, and research capacity, while also promoting a greater understanding of the unique needs of veterans in the broader medical community.
The Rhode Island Neuroscience Research Agreement is a broad research partnership announced last year between Lifespan, Brown University, the University of Rhode Island, Care New England, and the Providence VA Medical Center. Under the agreement, the partners will work to identify causes and potential treatments for neurological diseases and disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and autism. The Enhanced Veteran Healthcare Act would allow the VA to leverage these existing relationships, enhancing this collaboration to expand research opportunities and improve health care outcomes for our nation’s veterans.
“Research, particularly at the nexus where findings of basic brain science are translated to fighting disease, benefits tremendously from collaboration,” said Diane Lipscombe, Director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science and Professor of Neuroscience at Brown University. “We greatly value our partnerships around the state and the tremendous role the VA plays in them.”
“Enhancing research interactions between the VA and Universities would allow researchers with diverse backgrounds and experience to collaborate on difficult problems. This would benefit both veterans and the general population. The University of Rhode Island would looked forward to enhanced collaboration with the VA,” said Gerald Sonnenfeld, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Economic Development and Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Rhode Island.
“The partnership between educational institutions and VA is a critical component of our ability to discover, develop, evaluate and deliver new treatments for diseases and injuries that affect veterans,” said Leigh R. Hochberg, MD, Ph.D., Director of the VA Center for Neurorestoration and Neurotechnology and Professor of Engineering at Brown University.
Whitehouse has been working to provide additional authority and federal resources to Rhode Island’s dynamic brain research community. In addition to the steps he announced today, Whitehouse advocated for inclusion of $150 million for the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health, which was included in the omnibus funding package Congress passed in December.