Background: Military sexual trauma (MST) is sexual harassment or assault that occurs during military service and is a pervasive problem among post-9/11 women veterans (hereafter referred to as MST survivors). MST has harmful effects, including impaired functioning and mental health challenges, with 65 percent of survivors experiencing suicidal ideation. Although treatments exist for mental health issues among MST survivors, barriers prevent them from seeking care, and even those who receive services can experience residual symptoms. While studies have examined mental health and treatment outcomes related to MST, the voices of survivors and the practitioners who are on the frontlines treating these issues are notably missing from this research. A great need exists for mental health research on MST that prioritizes survivors’ and practitioners’ perspectives on issues that are most pressing. Centralizing survivors’ voices is paramount for enhancing equitable participation in every aspect of PCOR/CER.
Proposed Solution to the Problem: Empower MST survivors and practitioners as equitable partners in PCOR/CER by (a) understanding their research engagement needs and priorities, (b) explicating their perspectives surrounding access and barriers to treatment, and (c) building collaborative relationships. These perspectives will be leveraged to develop curriculum to educate MST survivors and practitioners in PCOR/CER practices, so they are equipped for mutual collaboration in PCOR/CER.
- Leverage the lived experiences of MST survivors and practitioners to identify their research engagement needs and priorities
- Engage women MST survivors and practitioners in training related to PCOR/CER practices so that they are ready to be equitable partners in various stages of PCOR/CER projects
- Hold concurrent Lived Experience Meetings with survivors and Effectively Treating MST Conversations with practitioners
- Hold a Building Bridges Event to bring the groups together to share their stories, understand emergent engagement needs, and identify mental health research priorities
- Projected Outcomes and Outputs:
- Formation of an MST alliance comprised of women MST survivors, VA providers, and community practitioners
- Report on MST survivors’ and practitioners’ perspectives on healthcare needs, barriers to treatment, and research priorities
- A trained cohort of women MST survivors and practitioners who are equipped and ready to participate in the design, implementation, and dissemination of future MST mental health research
Patient and Stakeholder Engagement Plan: Stakeholders on this project include: a woman veteran with lived experience of MST as the MST project ambassador; women MST survivors as part of the alliance; Smart Policy Works; and mental health practitioners who have experience treating MST survivors. Stakeholders will participate in, inform the structure of, and lead sessions during the Lived Experience Meetings, the Effectively Treating MST Conversations, and the Building Bridges Event. Further, stakeholders will direct how the PCOR/CER curriculum is tailored and delivered.
Project Collaborators: Smart Policy Works, Illinois Joining Forces, VA Illiana Healthcare System, Carle Foundation Hospital, and the Rush University Road Home Program.