The Million Veteran Program

The Million Veteran Program aims to collect data from 1 million veteran participants in order to study diseases ranging from diabetes to post-traumatic stress disorder. Researchers hope the medical database will advance veterans’ health. By creating a medical database of health information gathered from United States veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs hopes to better understand how genes affect the health of both veterans and civilians. The database of information will include genetic military exposure, lifestyle and health information in order to conduct research that may improve veterans’ health care.

To participate, veterans provide a blood sample, fill out a survey about their health and allow the department access to their medical records. The program first began to enroll veterans last May, and with more than 133,000 participants so far, including about 1,700 in Maryland alone, the database is expected to be complete within five to seven years.

Hopes for the Million Vet Program

Researchers hope the data will lead to new ways of treating widespread illnesses like cancer and heart disease, as well as develop individualized ways of treating common military-related conditions, such as brain injury. Such a database will help doctors understand why certain treatments work for some patients and not others, as well as help prevent illnesses in the first place by examining their causes.

Researchers hope that by determining what genes are associated with increased susceptibility to certain diseases, they will be able to devise treatments that will work with patients’ unique genetic makeup. Its information is to be used in designing treatment for the individual. Genes that indicate a predisposition for common post-deployment conditions, such as PTSD, will be a heavy focus of study, he said. Other research will look at mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, as well as conditions like diabetes and heart disease. The way genes affect a patient’s likelihood of getting diabetes or another disease is complicated, but it becomes much easier to examine with a greater volume of data to study.

About 8.3 million veterans are enrolled in the Veterans Affairs health care system. Veterans Affairs has never conducted research on this scale in the past, and researchers said they hope the Million Veteran Program will become one of the largest databases of its kind.

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