Sunday, January 10, 2010

Nonprofits Boosting VA Research

The November-December issue of “VA Research Currents,” reports that nonprofits are helping researchers at the Veterans Administration. In 2008 alone, the nonprofits took in and paid out close to $250 million to support more than 4,000 studies at the VA.

The Veterans Medical Research Foundation (VMRF) a nonprofit based in San Diego supports research at the VA’s San Diego Health Care System by administering grants, hiring the staff needed to renovate laboratories, and also supports equipment purchases. The San Diego nonprofit is the second largest of 82 organizations of this type nationwide.

According to Kerstin Lynam, CEO of VMRF, the Foundation’s nonprofit partnership with the VA is able to provide individualized and flexible grant management because we are much smaller than most other research foundations and other organizations conducting research. She oversees a staff of 250 with a budget of $30 million.

She reports that VMRF will case manage a project through the compliance process from start to finish when necessary and often works hard to meet proposal submission deadlines. Lynam added that “because we are a VA Foundation, we know and understand VA processes well and we work particularly well with the VA Research Service and their staff.”

Research funding is also available from federal agencies other than the VA, such as NIH and the Department of Defense. For example, NIH awarded a $1.8 million grant to be administered by the San Diego nonprofit to research HIV-AIDS and to help VA Researcher Doug Richman, M.D., and the team at the University of California, San Diego study enzymes that will enable the virus to stay latent and evade treatment.

Additional funding comes from private-sector companies and organizations. About half the money is used to pay nurses, technicians, and other study personnel, and pay for travel expenses to help foot the bill so VA researchers can attend conferences. Sometimes bridge funding is provided to tide over investigators if there is a gap in their funding, plus seed funding can be provided for an investigator who has a new idea and wants to collect some preliminary data.

Up until now, the VA nonprofits haven’t done much to raise funds to augment their revenue. At least three Foundations are actively seeking donations including the VMRF, along with two other groups in California. Lynam reports that the VMRF is retooling its website to entice potential donors.

Barbara West Executive Director of the National Association of Veterans Research and Education Foundations (NAVREF) is quick to point out that her group still advocates for adequate annual funding from Congress to support VA research since that funding is still the mainstay of VA research. According to West, even with the sharp growth of the nonprofits contribution in the past two decades, the funds they administer can never replace the federal VA research appropriation.