25 Years | 25 Stories of NAVREF
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25 Years | 25 Stories of NAVREF
Since 1992, the National Association of Veterans' Research and Education Foundations has worked to support our members to become a source of excellence for VA Research and Development. Over the course of Fiscal Year 2017, NAVREF will be promoting 25 stories from our members, friends, and stakeholders recounting our unique heritage, culture, and spirit.  You can look forward to 2 recollections each month culminating on September 10th in Las Vegas where we will host our 25th Annual NAVREF Conference.  Thank you for your support of NAVREF’s vision of a nation in which veterans receive the finest care based on innovative research and education.

Our Seventh Story: Connecting with Connecticut

Fred Wright, M.D.
ACOS-R, VA Connecticut Healthcare System

The VA Connecticut Healthcare System came late to NAVREF. I had been the Associate Chief of Staff for Research when VA NPCs were authorized in 1992, but we had not found it necessary to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the statute. 

Until about 10 years ago most non-VA funds supporting research by investigators at West Haven were managed by the Yale School of Medicine. Then we learned from the VA Cooperative Studies Program that funds intended for the CSP Coordinating Center at West Haven would have to be received and administered by a VA affiliated NPC. Because we didn’t have one, it was suddenly urgent to establish what is now the VA Connecticut Research and Education Foundation (VACREF). Handed to me was another of those interesting opportunities to tackle things that I definitely had not learned in school. Fortunately NAVREF and, most importantly, the people of NAVREF were there to provide welcome guidance and counsel; they made it possible for all the parts such as State Charter, IRS determination, policies, Board of Directors, book keeper, bank account, and auditor to come together. Oh, and because someone had to act as Executive Director until we could search and find the right person for the job, I humbly accepted.  

Now I had the incentive and the urge to attend my first NAVREF Annual Conference, and the opportunity to meet the experienced leaders of VA NPCs and to receive wisdom on many topics: NPC governance, business ethics, inspector general visits, employee concerns, resources to assist nonprofits, and financial management. This also happened to be the time of the transition from Clinical Research Agreements to CRADAs. This meant the added excitement of being in the midst of many people who were facing the disturbing need to change, reacting with some doubts, but resolving to get in sync with the Federal Technology Transfer Act.   

The next year a call from the NAVREF Nominations Committee revealed that the Board position designated for an Associate Chief of Staff for Research was going to be open and would I be interested. I certainly was interested. My first NAVREF Annual Conference had been very helpful, but I couldn’t remember all of the details of everything that I had heard. The Board would provide an enormous opportunity to really find out how NPCs around the country were finding ways to support and enhance VA research. And the Board did that and more. Traveling to and visiting a different VA medical center every three months for six years provided invaluable insight into the operations and successes of both the local NPCs and the VA Research Offices. I treasure the personal relationships that grew out of our work at and between Board meetings. I hope that I was able to provide the NAVREF Board with at least a fraction of the help that the Board service provided to me.

I mentioned the VACREF search for an Executive Director. With the passage of time and great good fortune the right person appeared. Mary Rauschenberg, bringing experience in research, research administration, and helping people, moved to Connecticut, and took on all of the day to day operations. She has guided a maturing VACREF that has now supported not only the CSP Coordinating Center in West Haven, and the five year follow-up CSP study of immunity persistence following vaccination for shingles, but also now supports more than thirty clinical trials concerned with cancer, heart failure, HCV and HIV infection, liver disease, and traumatic brain injury. VACREF is now the functioning back-up to fill needs that VA is not able to meet. It’s great that we were pushed to establish our NPC. It’s even greater that NAVREF and all of its resources were immediately available to help.
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