We’ve all heard the amazing secrets that our DNA can unlock. From solving crimes to discovering cousins you didn’t even know you had, it is as they say, “all in the genes.” Services like 23 and Me and Ancestry have popularized getting DNA sequencing done more cheaply and effectively than ever before. DNA tests can help you learn about your own predisposition to medical problems and that you have an Irish 3rd cousin, but it can’t do much more than that on its own. Popular forms of testing certainly don’t take into account your experiences as a Veteran.
What is MVP?
Million Veterans Program (MVP for short) is aiming to change the game when it comes to forecasting health outcomes and improving treatments. The VA Office of Research and Development is taking the gene-based approach a step further by factoring in military exposure, lifestyle factors and combining it with genetic information. This data collectively can be used to accelerate research that won’t just improve your life, but the lives of veterans everywhere.
Veterans have a unique set of challenges that the VA is uniquely equipped to address. For instance, the civilian population at large hasn’t come into contact with the variety of environmental, psychological and physical challenges that Veterans have. Inoculation regimens, anti-nerve agent pills, bad air quality during deployments in foreign lands and exposure to chemicals like Agent Orange are just a few of the things former service members have dealt with. These additional factors mean that commonly held treatment regimens that have been deployed under “normal circumstances” may not apply as universally in Veteran populations. This is what makes the VA’s MVP unique, as it is an opportunity to collect experiential data that is Veteran-specific and combine it with genetic information.
VA Office of Research and Development
The VA Office of Research and Development has over ninety-years of research experience and has helped improve knowledge and treatment in the Veteran population. More importantly, the VA is uniquely positioned to put MVP’s data to immediate and effective use better than any other organization in the world.
The mission of VA research is fourfold:
• to improve Veterans’ health and well-being via basic, translational, clinical, health services, and rehabilitative research;
• to apply scientific knowledge to develop effective individualized care solutions for Veterans;
• to attract, train, and retain the highest-caliber investigators, and nurture their development as leaders in their fields; and
• to assure a culture of professionalism, collaboration, accountability, and the highest regard for research volunteers’ safety and privacy.
MVP is helping make important breakthroughs in treating afflictions that effects veterans in areas as diverse as Diabetes, suicide prevention, Parkinson’s Disease and PTSD to name a few. These discoveries can be used to answer questions like “Why does one treatment work for this Veteran, but not for others” or “How do we predict illness in Veterans, given their experience and genetic background.” The research that MVP has collected has led to more than one-hundred scientific papers that collectively have helped improve treatments and create more positive health outcomes for veterans and Americans everywhere.
MVP is composed of two primary components. Both components are instrumental in the research being conducted and combined are a powerful tool in the VA’s arsenal of solutions for Veterans.
What’s Involved in Participating?
The first component consists of a series of questionnaires that ask about health, lifestyle habits, military experience and personal and family history. These questions help provide important information that can assist researchers. Consequently, your candor in answering is incredibly vital in helping researchers make great breakthroughs. Knowing how often you have a drink or get exercise can assist in creating a diverse and accurate medical portrait of veterans, which only makes the research stronger and more effective.
The second component of MVP involves a one-time visit to provide a blood sample. The appointment takes about twenty-minutes to draw 10 ml of blood (about two teaspoons), and is over before you know it. It is important to note that your MVP genetic analysis will not provide a health screening for you. MVP will not test for any diseases like diabetes, breast, prostate or bowel cancer to name a few. If you have concerns about these conditions, you should discuss them with your primary care provider.
Veterans who wish to participate in MVP, but who have disabilities or special needs can receive certain accommodations.
- If you have issues with your sight, MVP can arrange to have someone read the information to you. All materials through MVP are 508 compliant.
- If you are wheel-chair bound, the VA has full access for you and you will not undergo any assessments that will cause you difficulty, as blood collection can occur while you are seated in your wheelchair.
- If you are dyslexic, have poor eyesight or can’t read, please let MVP team know and they will make arrangements for you.
Privacy is Paramount
One of the most important aspects of MVP is its commitment to privacy. Confidentiality is paramount when participating in the program. All DNA samples are protected with a code, which means any identifying information about the participant is stripped away and stored separately. The samples themselves are stored in the VA Central Biorepository. Only the research staff and limited VA staff can cross match your genetic sample with your personal data, and they do so only when necessary. Police do not have access to the information as MVP has a Certificate of Confidentiality issued by the National Institute of Health (NIH). Researchers cannot be compelled to disclose information that may identify you. The researchers will use the Certificate to resist any demands for information that would identify you. Participation in MVP is voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time, at which time genetic samples are destroyed.
Being a part of MVP is an act of generosity and service to fellow warriors and Americans at large. You can help be the key to new discoveries, better treatments and a brighter tomorrow for your country and your fellow man.