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First Annual PACT Act Research Symposium for Veteran Health

Symposium Co-Chairs


Andrew Hoisington, PhD, PE
Supervisory Health Scientist and Associate Director, Military and Veteran Microbiome Consortium for Research and Education (MVM-CoRE), Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center (MIRECC) for Suicide Prevention
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Andy Hoisington joined the Rocky Mountain MIRECC and University of Colorado Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) teams last spring after a long standing collaboration of 7 years with the MIRECC while he served in the Air Force. Dr. Hoisington retired from military service after 21 years as a Civil Engineering officer with assignments to teach at the United States Air Force Academy and the Air Force Institute of Technology. He is currently the MVM-CoRE Associate Director & Wet Lab Director for Rocky Mountain MIRECC and is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Air Force Institute of Technology and an Assistant Professor at University of Colorado Anschutz. His research interest includes the intersection of human microbiome and mental health, connections between microbiome of the built environment and mental health and associations between the built environment and mental health outcomes.


Elizabeth J. Kovacs, PhD
Professor and Vice Chair of Research, Department of Surgery
University of Colorado

Dr. Elizabeth J. Kovacs received a BA in Biology from Reed College in 1978 and a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Vermont in 1984. She was a postdoctoral trainee at the National Institutes of Health in the Biological Response Modifiers Program prior to joining the faculty in the Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy at Loyola University Chicago in 1987. At Loyola, Dr. Kovacs moved through the ranks to full professor and then joined the Department of Surgery as Vice-Chair of Research. She was the Director of the Alcohol Research Program and the Director of Research of the Burn and Shock Trauma Institute before relocating her laboratory to the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus in 2016. She is now a Tenured Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Surgery. Dr. Kovacs is also the Director of Burn Research and the Alcohol Research Programs.

Research in the Kovacs laboratory is funded by NIH and the VA. Her laboratory has been studying tissue injury and repair in trauma patients and in murine models focusing on the gut-liver axis in the development of lung inflammation and most recently on the gut-brain axis in neuroinflammation.

Invited Speakers

Director Michael T. Kilmer

Michael T. Kilmer
Director, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
Department of Veterans Affairs

Michael T. Kilmer is the director for VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. Mr. Kilmer has held many vital roles in Veterans Health Administration and most recently served more than two years as the director for Western Colorado VA Health Care System. With his commitment to serving Veterans, Mr. Kilmer has nearly 20 years of VA experience, including various roles in leadership, organizational improvement and multi-facility operations. He has also served VA as care management and social work chief consultant, Central Texas Health Care System interim director, Amarillo VA Health Care System interim director; and VA Desert Pacific Health Care System patient-centered care and care management program director. Mr. Kilmer earned his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary arts and sciences from University of Washington, Tacoma, and master's in social work from University of Washington, Seattle. He's also a 15-year Veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard.


Shilpa A. Rungta, MD
Chief of Staff, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Shilpa Rungta is the Chief of Staff for VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS). She previously served as Chief of Staff at Bedford VA Medical Center in Massachusetts, overseeing a wide range of clinical programs and medical services. Dr. Rungta has also held key leadership positions at Cincinnati VA Medical Center, VA Battle Creek Healthcare System and VA Ann Arbor Health Care. She earned her doctorate in medicine from the University of Mumbai, completed residencies and fellowships in the US and is a diplomate of the American Board of Pathology. Additionally, Dr. Rungta holds post-baccalaureate certificates in health care administration and business foundations and an MBA from the University of Cincinnati.


Joseph Francis, MD
Executive Director, Analytics and Performance Integration, Office of Quality and Safety
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Joe Francis has served as the Executive Director for Analytics and Performance Integration since March 2020. In his current role, he leads a team of health system analysts that use electronic health record data and other sources to monitor the performance of the hospitals and clinics in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the nation's largest integrated healthcare system. His office enables the entire VHA health system to use data to drive high-value and Veteran-Centric care, to reduce unwarranted variation and to respond to public health emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic. His team is also responsible for public reporting of VA healthcare performance.


AnnaBelle Bryan, MS
Director, Suicide and Trauma Reduction Initiative for Veterans (STRIVE), Clinical Research Manager, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Wexner Medical Center
The Ohio State University

AnnaBelle Bryan served on active duty in the Air Force for 20 years. She has 13 years' experience working on multiple federally sponsored research studies focused on military and Veteran mental health and suicide prevention, including serving as a study Co-PI (principal investigator) and Co-I (investigator). Her research interests include massed treatments for PTSD and suicide. AnnaBelle has also developed and pilot tested a peer-to-peer certification training that focuses on the needs of military and Veterans.

Keynote Speakers


Lisa A. Brenner, PhD
Clinical Research Psychologist
Department of Veterans Affairs

Lisa A. Brenner, PhD, is a Board-Certified Rehabilitation Psychologist, a Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), Psychiatry and Neurology at the University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus. She is also Vice Chair of Research for the Department of PM&R. She has over 20 years of experience working with Veterans and has championed numerous national efforts to prevent suicide among Veterans. Her primary area of research interest is traumatic brain injury, co-morbid psychiatric disorders and negative psychiatric outcomes including suicide.


Cecile S. Rose, MD, MPH
Director, Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Department of Medicine
National Jewish Health

Dr. Rose is Professor of Medicine in the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish Health and has academic appointments in the Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz and in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health. She leads clinical and research programs with sustained federal and foundation funding for U.S. miners and for Veterans with respiratory illnesses following military deployment to Southwest Asia and Afghanistan.

Presenters - Session 1: Respiratory Health


Gregory P. Downey, MD
Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine
National Jewish Health

Dr. Downey received his MD from the University of Manitoba and completed training in Internal Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He then completed clinical training in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado. He subsequently undertook post-doctoral research training in immunology with Dr. Peter Henson at National Jewish Health. He returned to Canada to assume a position as Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of the Lung Cell and Molecular Biology Laboratory at the University of Toronto rising through the ranks to become the Director of the Division of Respirology, Professor and Vice-Chair, Department of Medicine and the recipient of a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Respiration Sciences. Dr. Downey returned to Denver as Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics and Immunology and Genomic Medicine at National Jewish Health and Professor of Medicine and Immunology and Microbiology and Associate Dean of the School of Medicine, University of Colorado. His current research interests include innate immunity, acute lung injury and sepsis, lung antimicrobial defenses, the effects of particulate matter exposure on lung health and pulmonary fibrosis.


Moumita Ghosh, PhD
Associate Professor, Anschutz School of Medicine
University of Colorado

Dr. Ghosh is an associate professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at the University of Colorado. The focus of her research group is to understand the role of airway stem/progenitor cells in lung health and how it changes during development of chronic lung disease or in lung premalignancy. She has been studying lung squamous and adenocarcinoma premalignancy in Veterans for the past twelve years. Studies from her laboratory have shown that progenitor dysfunction is an early step in carcinogenesis and restoration of this function could be a goal for cancer prevention. In collaboration with Drs. York Miller and Silpa Krefft she plans to investigate if similar progenitor dysfunction plays a role in deployment related Lung Disease. This project is funded by the Department of Defense.


Silpa Krefft, MD, MPH
Staff Physician, Assistant Professor, Pulmonary and Critical Care, Site Director, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System (ECHCS) Post-Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network Center
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Krefft is an occupational pulmonologist and critical care physician. She completed training in Internal Medicine at Boston University Medical Center and then subsequently completed Pulmonary/Critical Care fellowship and Occupational Medicine training at the University of Colorado. She joined the faculty in the Division of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at National Jewish Health in Denver, CO in 2016 as well as the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center in Aurora, Colorado in 2017 where her practice includes evaluation and management of occupational and environmental lung diseases. Her research interests include exposure-related lung disease with a particular focus on deployment-related respiratory diseases such as asthma in military service members who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. She currently serves as the Site Director for the VA Eastern Colorado Post Deployment Cardiopulmonary Evaluation Network Center, one of 6 specialty centers offering local and regional evaluations for deployment-related respiratory disease.


Erin K. Dursa, PhD, MPH
Senior Epidemiologist, Office of Patient Care Services, Health Outcomes Military Exposures (HOME)
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Dursa is a senior epidemiologist in the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Outcomes Military Exposures Epidemiology Program. Her research focuses on the long-term health effects of deployment, specifically the 1990-1991 Gulf War, and Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Veterans. She has published widely in the area post deployment health issues including Gulf War illness/chronic multisymptom illness, respiratory health, post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma and women's health. Dr. Dursa is the PI of the Gulf War Era Cohort Study, the largest and longest running longitudinal cohort study of Gulf War Veterans, which the VA has been following since 1995. She is leading the Department of Veterans Affairs' effort to use machine learning to develop a data-driven case definition for Gulf War illness. Dr. Dursa received her MPH in epidemiology from the Yale School of Public Health and a PhD in epidemiology from the Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.


Camilla A. Mauzy, PhD
Senior Scientist, 711 Human Performance Wing, Air Force Research Laboratory
Department of the Air Force

Dr. Mauzy received her PhD at Purdue University, worked for over 12 years in Pharma and biotechnology corporations as both Senior Scientist and manager prior to joining the Air Force Research Laboratory in 2004. She focuses on diverse areas of research, reflecting truly innovative approaches to Department of Defense (DoD) human performance and protection needs. She was the first to use cutting-edge genetic approaches to identify new gene/gene pathways contributing to performance issues in human and animal cohorts. Her group is currently involved in epigenetic biomarker discovery using miRNA signatures for inhalation exposures to jet fuels, burn pit emissions, and sand. She is also involved in miRNA discovery for performance issues. In addition to genetics and epigenetic biomarker discovery, Dr. Mauzy was one of the first to recognize the utility of the microbiome in military-centric needs. She currently is examining gut and lung microbiome alterations after environmental exposures or DoD-relevant mission conditions which will aid in understanding of the host-microbe molecular mechanisms. The overall application of this research effort is the development of real time biomarker biomonitoring with individually matched mechanistically-targeted interventions.


Terra Vincent-Hall, PhD
Senior Toxicologist
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Terra Vincent-Hall has served as a Senior Toxicologist for the Exposure Science Program, Health Outcomes Military Exposures, VA, since 2011. In this role, she is the agency's technical expert on the chemical, biological and physical exposures that Veterans may have encountered during military service and related health effects. She works closely with other government agencies to identify and characterize service-related exposures to better understand their impact on the health of Veterans and service members. She also supports the development healthcare and disability compensation policies, as well as training for healthcare providers. As a principal investigator, she leads several research activities to investigate the impact of exposures on Veteran populations. Dr. Vincent-Hall attended Norfolk State University in Norfolk, VA as a scholar in the Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences and received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry in 2006. She then attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Chapel Hill, NC, where she conducted her doctoral research at the US Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, NC and was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in Toxicology in 2011. Dr. Vincent-Hall was board-certified in General Toxicology by the American Board of Toxicology in 2022.


Alison K. Bauer, PhD, ATSF
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health, Anschutz School of Medicine
University of Colorado

Dr. Bauer is an associate professor in Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the Colorado School of Public Health. She is an environmental and occupational toxicologist that has over 20 years of experience in mouse lung inflammation/injury and carcinogenesis models exposed to various environmental agents including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), ozone, vanadium pentoxide (V2O5), nanomaterials and nitrogen mustard. Her research interests include understanding the mechanisms eliciting adverse health effects in response to these occupational and environmental exposures with a focus on inflammation, intercellular communication and how downstream bioactive lipid pathways influence these mechanisms. The future goal is to identify interventions to alleviate adverse health effects, particularly in underserved populations that are more vulnerable to these occupational and environmental exposures.


Jared Brown, PhD
Professor, Director, Toxicology Graduate Program, Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Skaggs School of Pharmacy, Anschutz School of Medicine
University of Colorado

Dr. Brown is a Professor of Toxicology in the Skaggs School of Pharmacy. His research interests include immune and pulmonary responses to particulates, chemical warfare agents and development of chronic kidney disease in agricultural workers.


Tara Hendry-Hofer, MSN, RN
Program Manager, TRIAD Research Laboratory, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Anschutz School of Medicine
University of Colorado

Ms. Hendry-Hofer has 20 years of experience in drug development research and worked for 5 years at the bedside caring for patients suffering from pulmonary disease. As Program Manager of TRIAD, she oversees and facilitates the execution of clinically relevant, translational research studies. She has developed chemical inhalation exposure models in an effort to better understand the pathogenesis of toxic chemical exposures with a goal of bringing evidence-based therapies from the bench to the bedside.

Presenters - Session 2: Existing Data/Programs


Anisa K. Moore, MD
Director, Veterans Exposure Team-Health Outcomes Military Exposures (VET-HOME)
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. Anisa K. Moore is the Director of Veterans Exposure Team-Health Outcomes Military Exposures (VET-HOME), VA's new national hub serving Veterans with military environmental exposures. A board-certified internist since 2005, Dr. Moore worked for 10 years in primary care before joining VA in 2015, where she became a Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Subject Matter Expert and the Lead Environmental Health Clinician for VISN 19. After the onset of COVID, she supported the Veterans and employees of VA's Eastern CO Health Care System in her capacity as Medical Director of the COVID-19 Clinical Testing Center and Service Chief of Vaccinations, Environmental Health and Employee Occupational Health (VEEOH); in fact, VA Secretary Denis McDonough honored her with a coin of recognition in March 2022 for her work in these areas. Finally, as the wife of an Army Veteran deployed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq as part of Desert Storm/Desert Shield, she understands Veteran concerns about military environmental exposures and is committed to ensuring that VA provides outstanding care for our nation's heroes.


Rudy Rull, PhD, MPH
Principal Investigator, Millennium Cohort Study
Naval Health Research Center

Dr. Rudy Rull is a Research Epidemiologist and the Department Head for Deployment Health Research at the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) in San Diego, CA. He is the Principal Investigator of the Millennium Cohort Study, the largest and longest-running longitudinal health study in military history with the objective of assessing the long-term impacts of military service on the psychological and physical health and health behaviors of service members and Veterans. In addition to military health, Dr. Rull's research has focused on the assessment of exposures to environmental and occupational hazards including pesticides, metals and air pollutants using biological markers, environmental databases and geographic information systems, as well as the effects of these exposures on the risks of adverse health outcomes, including cancers, respiratory diseases and birth defects. Dr. Rull holds a BA in Environmental Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PhD and MPH in Epidemiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the son a retired enlisted Sailor.


Aaron I. Schneiderman, PhD, MPH, RN
Epidemiology Program Director
Department of Veterans Affairs

Aaron Schneiderman, PhD, MPH, RN is Director of Department of Veterans Affairs Health Outcomes of Military Exposures (HOME) Epidemiology Program. Research focus: the effects of military-related occupational and environmental exposures on the health and well-being of Veterans.


Anne N. Styka, MPH, PMP
Senior Program Officer
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine

Anne N. Styka, MPH, PMP, is a senior program officer and epidemiologist in the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies. Over her tenure she has worked on more than 14 consensus studies (directing or codirecting 7 of them) on a broad range of topics related to the health of military and Veteran populations and environmental and occupational health. Studies have included designing and evaluating epidemiologic research studies of deployment-related exposures, including burn pits, dioxin and other chemical agents and the use of antimalarial drugs; and directing a research program of fostering new research studies using data and biospecimens collected as part of the 20-year Air Force Health Study. Before coming to the National Academies, Ms. Styka spent several years working as an epidemiologist for the New Mexico Department of Health and the Albuquerque Area Southwest Tribal Epidemiology Center, specializing in survey design and the analysis of behavioral risk factors and injury. She also spent several months in Zambia as the epidemiologist on a study of silicosis and other nonmalignant respiratory diseases among copper miners. She has several peer-reviewed publications and has contributed to numerous state and national reports.

Presenters - Session 3: Mental Health


Lindsay T. McDonald, PhD
Research Health Scientist
Department of Veterans Affairs

Dr. McDonald is a VA Career Development Awardee studying psychological stress and inhaled exposures. Recently she transferred to the Rocky Mountain Regional VA from the Ralph H. Johnson VA in Charleston, SC. Her research interests include understanding the comorbid effects of psychological stress on exposure-induced lung disease. Dr. McDonald is looking forward to supporting the PACT Act initiatives by developing new research collaborations to speed toxic exposure research for our Veterans suffering with mental health disease and the effects of pulmonary exposures.


Erika M. Manczak, PhD
Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Denver

Dr. Manczak's research seeks to trace novel social, biological and physical environmental contributors to depression across the lifespan. Through a holistic consideration of multiple levels of risk--ranging from molecular signaling patterns to social interactions to atmospheric exposures--she endeavors to identify modifiable processes implicated in psychopathology symptoms in order to inform treatment and prevention efforts.


Kathleen M. Flarity, PhD
Deputy Director COMBAT (COmbat Medicine and BATtlefield) Research, Anschutz School of Medicine
University of Colorado

Dr. Kathleen Flarity is the Deputy Director of the CU Anschutz Center for COMBAT Research. Additionally, Brig Gen Flarity is an experienced nurse practitioner and emergency and critical care flight nurse. She has over 41 years of military service, including multiple deployments and commands. She is an Associate Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado - Denver | Anschutz Medical Campus.

Planning Committee

Andrew J. Hoisington, PhD, PE; Elizabeth J. Kovacs, PhD; Lisa A. Brenner, PhD; Nazanin Bahraini, PhD; Jeri Forster, PhD; Robert Keith, MD; Pam Rice, PhD; Silpa Krefft, MD, MIRECC Education Core, MIRECC Administrative Core and Denver Area Collaborators.

This research symposium is presented by the VA Rocky Mountain MIRECC for Suicide Prevention, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System and other Denver area collaborators. The event is partially sponsored by Denver Research Institute.

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Last Updated 31 January 2024