Daily Montanan: Veterans Affairs announces first research site in Montana

by Keila Szpaller

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Research and Development gave the VA Montana Health Care System approval this week for a research site in Montana, according to a news release Friday from the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Montana has one of the largest populations of veterans per capita, 8.9%, making it the state with the fifth highest number of vets per 100,000 people, according to U.S. News and World Report data from November 2023.

A timeline for the opening of the site, location and estimated costs were not yet available, according to a committee spokesperson.

However, research sites are typically based out of VA clinics or universities.

“The VA research site will likely be set up out of one of the VA Clinics in Montana, but we are not yet sure which VA clinic that would be and how many researchers will be involved,” said a spokesperson.

The VA operates Fort Harrison Medical Center in Helena and other clinics in Montana.

The news release said U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, led the effort to establish the research site, stressing the importance of mental health research given high suicide rates in rural states. Montana was one of just three states without a research site, according to the committee.

“Veterans in Montana and rural America face unique barriers to accessing the health care they’ve earned, and expanding research of this group and its challenges will improve VA’s delivery of care and their health outcomes,” said Tester, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a statement from the committee.

Research by the VA has helped advance other important medical developments, according to the news release.

“In the past, VA research has been critical to developing effective tuberculosis treatments, inventing the CAT scan and pacemaker, and performing the first-ever liver transplant,” said the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “It also continues to be critical to supporting toxic-exposed veterans under the PACT Act, improving women veterans’ health, and mental health care.”

A spokesperson for VA Montana was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.

According to the committee, additional details such as research focuses and size of the team would be available in the coming weeks and months.