Ending Summer

I'm feeling the sisyphussian tyranny of keeping a blog current. I see I’ve been away from this for all of August and a chunk of September. Call it a summer break, or the deflation of naïve expectations that keeping current on a blog would be easy and fun, or whatever. Anyway, I'm back; checking in.

For the first time in decades I don’t have the rhythms of the academic clock to tell me that summer is over. What has taken its place this year is the HSR&D funding cycle. HSR&D, the VA’s Health Services Research and Development Service (think VA equivalent of the NIH) has put out a call for letters of intent for submitting proposals for Merit grants (think VA counterpart to NIH’s R01), just after I heard back about the proposal that I put in last Spring in the previous funding cycle.

I got the news last week that the reviewers left my proposal unscored. Obviously a disappointing outcome, and I now sit in the twilight zone of knowing the decision but awaiting the “pink sheets” (reviewer comments) to come in that will let me know exactly how the reviewers tore it apart. Then it will be time to regroup and revise, and fall will be here.

I take heart in the wake of this setback as I feel confident and enthusiastic about the merits of this proposed project. In a nutshell, I’m proposing to apply predictive modelling methods to the VA’s vast database of health care and homeless services records to identify homelessness risk among veterans at the point that they are enrolling in the VA. The VA has made substantial inroads in recent years in reducing veteran homelessness, and this is a next step toward consolidating those gains.

There is also a qualitative component to this proposal, which proposes to interview at-risk veterans to see what homelessness risk looks like from an experiential vantage point, and how veterans would react to the prospect of participating in an ongoing prevention program. This would lay the groundwork for actually launching a prevention program based on this project’s findings.

I presented this proposal to the steering committee of the VA’s Center for Health Equities Research and Promotion (CHERP). CHERP has been a great ongoing source of support in helping to put this initial proposal together. It was, however, somewhat intimidating to present (pitch?) this proposal, given that it has apparent (though as yet unknown) holes, to a group of accomplished researchers. Not surprisingly, and they asked tough questions, but gracious in doing so, and very forthcoming with offering support. I came out of the meeting with what I was looking for: having connected with some people who stand to be very helpful as I revise this proposal and getting the HSR&D study section to see the potential for this research as I see it.

Getting to work on that will mark the beginning of autumn. But, in one last gasp of summer, I'm leaving tomorrow for a week and a half in Barcelona. This is ostensibly for a conference on European homelessness, but the family is coming to make it a vacation. I will check back when I return, with accounts of my trip and updates on this prevention project.

Stephen Metraux