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Sergeant Dave Hibler, M.S., with his dog, Orion (From PCORI Story, November 2023)

“Veterans are a special population,” says Sergeant Dave Hibler, M.S., a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University. Dave is a US Army veteran who served as a combat medic in Iraq. Through his work as a PCORI ambassador, Dave is a constant advocate for veterans to take part in the research which affects them. Dave is also a co-creator of the Veterans’ Action League, a PCORI-funded project giving veterans an active voice in patient-centered comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) and building research agendas related to the needs of veterans in making healthcare decisions. Dave, who experienced depression- and anxiety-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he returned from Iraq, shares: “So many people think they know what we've gone through and what we need. And unless you've been there and done that, you just really don't.”

A Seed of Stability, a Foundation for Growth

As he reflects on the evolution of his research and his role as a researcher, Dave is quick not only to credit mentors such as Cheryl Krause-Parello, lead on his PCORI-funded project, but also the canine companions who have been integral to his and Cheryl’s work.

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Sergeant Dave Hibler, M.S., with his dog, Orion (From PCORI Story, November 2023)
Sergeant Dave Hibler with Orion

Cheryl’s husband served as a Marine. She noticed that when her husband was having a PTSD flashback, their dachshund dog would jump into his lap, and petting the dog would help him calm down. Cheryl went on to found Canines Providing Assistance for Wounded Warriors (C-PAWW), an organization through which she, Dave and their colleagues have conducted several PCORI-supported projects focused on veteran health.

Dave himself was told by a chaplain overseas that a lot of people benefitted from getting a dog upon their return, but Dave was just reentering his college studies when he returned and wondered how he would have time to care for a dog. But as Dave found himself having trouble adjusting, he realized he needed something to ground him. His new companion Orion provided just the support he needed. “He really planted a seed of stability in my life that was able to grow into a foundation to build so many other things.” And although Orion was Dave’s emotional support animal, it was of course Dave’s job to stick to a schedule and care for Orion, too. “I had him for almost 16 years,” says Dave. “He was with me through an awful lot and had a special way of taking care of me.” Indeed, while Dave and Orion took care of each other, Dave finished two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree, started his doctoral program, and formed a family that now includes his wife, their 1-year-old daughter and their second dog, Atlas. Through his own experiences, Dave gained an understanding of what support veterans need and the expertise they bring — expertise which he applied to work such as the PCORI-funded Veteran’s Action League. Dave, Cheryl and their colleagues at C-PAWW have completed a large volume of studies and projects to support veteran health research.

When I got back from Iraq, I wanted to do research to better help people. Now, along the path, I've found different ways of doing that.

Sergeant Dave Hibler, M.S.

Many Moving Parts

The unique experiences of veterans like Dave can lead to new insights in research, for example in treating highly relevant conditions like PTSD and chronic pain. But veterans’ experiences provide unique perspectives in other areas of research, too.

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Sergeant Dave Hibler, M.S., with his dogs, Atlas and Orion (From PCORI Story, November 2023)
Dave with his dogs Atlas (left) and Orion

Dave’s experience as a veteran directly led to his understanding of group interdependence, individuals’ roles in groups and the feedback loops these can create. “The types of problems I was seeing in the clinics we ran over in Iraq,” Dave explains, “very strongly related to things like the size of the groups that we were engaging with out there.” Dave observed that larger posts caused individuals to specialize and depend more on the group, and in turn the group was more dependent on each individual’s specialization.

Now that he is engaged as a researcher and with his experiences in Iraq in mind, Dave’s work has had wide-ranging applications from community health to water-borne disease to evolutionary biology. “Veterans are the population I currently advocate for, but I know that many others can benefit from this research as well,” explains Dave.

Dave, like so many members of the PCORI community, has been influenced by the networks of patient-centered CER around him while leaving his own mark in return. “There's so many moving parts and different elements” in CER, Dave explains, “and if you aren't there listening to the community, you don't know what they all are. And if you don't know what they all are, you can't find the right fix.” PCORI Engagement Award projects like Dave’s ensure that more and more people like him can contribute their experience to find those right fixes. “When I got back from Iraq, I wanted to do research to better help people,” he says. “Now, along the path, I've found different ways of doing that.”


Posted: November 2, 2023

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Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
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Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary

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