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VISN 4 MIRECC Newsflash

Fellowship Edition 2019

VA research fellows have been busy this year! We want to take a moment to acknowledge the achievements of our fellows in the VISN 4 MIRECC as well as our collaborating fellows in the VA Interdisciplinary Addiction Program for Education and Research (VIPER). Preparing the next generation of scientists lies at the core of our Center’s mission, and we appreciate all their hard work throughout the year to advance research and improve health care for Veterans.


Two new fellows have begun the MIRECC Advanced Fellowship in Mental Illness Research and Treatment this fall. We are very excited to welcome Dr. Khazanov and Dr. Longenecker to our Center!

Gabi Khazanov, Ph.D. (Philadelphia)
will be working with Dr. Gregory Brown and Dr. Michael Thase on enhancing the prevention and treatment of suicide and depression. She is interested in how positive emotional deficits impact functioning and treatment outcomes for individuals with depression and suicidal ideation, and in finding ways to better address these deficits in treatment and improve engagement and outcomes. Dr. Khazanov received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and completed her internship at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center.

Julia Longenecker, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) will be focusing on the incorporation of EEG and personality psychology approaches to identify biomarkers associated with specific symptom profiles in psychosis. Dr. Longenecker received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota and completed her internship at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System. She was awarded 1st Place Best Poster Award at the 2018 Canadian Psychiatric Association Annual Conference, and she recently received a Soldier Suicide Prevention Scholarship to attend a workshop on Recovery-Oriented Cognitive Therapy for serious mental illness at the Beck Institute.

Continuing Fellows

Emily Hartwell, Ph.D. (Philadelphia) is currently focused on developing her expertise in pharmacogenetics and precision medicine approaches for the treatment of substance use disorders. In the upcoming year, Dr. Hartwell plans to utilize Million Veteran Program (MVP) data to examine pharmacotherapies for SUD. In recent months she presented her research at the Philadelphia Psychiatric Society Addiction Symposium and the Research Society on Alcoholism meeting in Minneapolis. She was also a guest lecturer to the Addiction Fellowship Didactic Series of the University of Pennsylvania/VA Fellowship Training Program.

Kelsey Bonfils, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) researches social cognition in psychopathology. She is interested in applying findings related to social cognitive processes to improve recovery-oriented interventions for people with schizophrenia. On fellowship, she has extended this work to take a transdiagnostic approach, and she is currently conducting a study investigating social cognitive processes in PTSD. Dr. Bonfils recently received a travel award to attend the 2019 Congress of Schizophrenia International Research Society.

Caitie Tighe, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) researches sleep and psychological functioning in later life and aging-related diseases. Currently, she is conducting a MIRECC Pilot Project investigating the prevalence of insomnia and other sleep problems in Veterans who are participating in Cardiac Rehabilitation. She is further examining whether Veterans with insomnia differ from those without in their participation and benefit from Cardiac Rehabilitation.

James Stevenson, Pharm.D., M.S., BCPP (Pittsburgh) is working on identifying novel genetic associations with drug outcomes (efficacy and safety) and promoting the responsible use of pharmacogenetic testing in clinical care. Dr. Stevenson was recently named chair-elect of the Pharmacokinetics/ Pharmacodynamics/ Pharmacogenomics Practice and Research Network of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, and he was appointed associate editor of the American Journal for Health-System Pharmacy.

Swathi Gujral, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) is a clinical neuropsychologist developing expertise as a lifestyle interventionist targeting psychiatric and cognitive comorbidities in late-life, with a focus on optimizing brain aging. Earlier this year she was selected to attend the NIMH Career Institute in the Mental Health of Aging. She received a scholarship to attend an NIH workshop on the Future of Clinical Trials Targeting Vascular Contributions to Cognitive Impairment, and she was an invited attendee to the Leo and Anne Albert Charity-Sponsored Symposium on Acute Bouts of Exercise Effects on Brain Health.

VIPER Fellows

Rachel Bachrach, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh) is interested in improving the use of evidence-based addiction care in VA. Her research is currently focused on identifying disparities in alcohol-related care within VA primary care services and improving the quality of and access to these services for Veterans engaged in unhealthy drinking. Dr. Bachrach was recently appointed instructor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. She was selected for a fellowship with the NIH Summer Institute on Randomized Behavioral Clinical Trials, and she received an NIAAA New Investigator Award to attend the 2019 Addiction Health Services Research Conference for poster presentation of findings from her MIRECC-funded pilot project, Unhealthy Alcohol Use and Brief Intervention Rates among Complex and Non-Complex Veterans Seeking Primary Care Services.

Stephanie Gannon, M.Div., BCC (Pittsburgh) is trying to raise the profile of the clinical chaplain within the interdisciplinary team in the substance use disorder clinic at the VAPHS. During the last year, she has been working on a quality improvement project that has involved developing the first-ever spirituality group in the outpatient SUD clinic. The group is based on the evidence-based Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) program pioneered about a decade ago by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. and Christopher Germer, Ph.D. Her goal is to publish on this project and to create and disseminate a manual for use by VA chaplains based on her curriculum. Rev. Gannon was recently awarded VA funds to attend the Transforming Chaplaincy Summer Research Institute at Rush University Medical Center.


Kelsey Bonfils received a Gerald Goldstein Early Career Mental Health Research Award from the Veterans Research Foundation of Pittsburgh for her pilot study, Social Cognition as a Correlate of Functioning and Symptoms in PTSD.

Emily Hartwell received a MIRECC Pilot Project Award for her project, Pharmacogenetics of Buprenorphine Response in Veterans Being Treated for Opioid Use Disorder.

Swathi Gujral received a MIRECC Pilot Project Award for her project, Neurobiological Correlates of Physical Activity and Cardiorespiratory Fitness: Role in Predicting Treatment Response in a Pharmacotherapy Trial for Treatment-Resistant Late-Life Depression. She received a Gerald Goldstein Early Career Mental Health Research Award from the Veterans Research Foundation of Pittsburgh for her study, Feasibility and Acceptability of a 12-Week Technology-Assisted Home-Based Aerobic Exercise Intervention for Veterans with Late-Life Depression. She is also a co-investigator on the NIMH study, Administrative Supplement to Expand Suicide Prevention Research.  

James Stevenson received a MIRECC Pilot Project Award for his project, Predicted and Observed 10-Year Incidence of Cardiovascular Events in Veterans’ Treatment with Antipsychotics. He is also a co-investigator on a grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation for the project, Accelerating Whole Genome Sequencing Adoption through Innovative Education.


Three of our postdocs have recently moved on from the fellowship to exciting new roles:

Sarah Forster, Ph.D. (Pittsburgh ’18) is now conducting her VA Clinical Science R&D Career Development Award-funded study, Electrophysiological Predictors and Indicators of Contingency Management Treatment Response: The Ways of Rewarding Abstinence Project (WRAP) (read more about this project here). Dr. Forster’s research focuses on identifying individual differences in brain function that may inform personalized delivery of substance use treatments.

Katherine Miller, Ph.D. (Philadelphia ’19) is now conducting her VA Clinical Science R&D Career Development Award-funded study, Characterizing Sleep with Trauma Nightmares Using Ambulatory Sleep Measurement (read more about this project here). Dr. Miller’s research is broadly focused on understanding chronic sleep disturbances as they relate to trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder.

Hayley Fivecoat, Ph.D. (Philadelphia ’19) recently joined the Family Institute at Northwestern University, where she treats individuals and couples for a wide range of clinical problems and psychosocial stressors and conducts research on the role of relationships in mental and physical health. She continues to analyze data from her MIRECC-funded project, A Pilot Study Examining the Benefits of Romantic Partner Involvement in PTSD Symptom Management. Dr. Fivecoat recently reflected on her VA fellowship experience:

"The MIRECC fellowship helped me focus my area of expertise on applied mental health research and think about how to design my research in a way that can be readily and practically applied to clinical settings.” —HAYLEY FIVECOAT, PH.D.

Since 2001, the Advanced Fellowship in Mental Illness Research and Treatment in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh has fostered the careers of 40 scientists. Several alumni are current MIRECC investigators working on VA-funded research in areas including depression, addiction, and sleep disturbances. Other alumni have gone on to careers within the VHA and at top universities and health systems around the nation.


Naps MS, Maass D, Kranzler HR, Smith RV, Ingram E, Oslin DW. Predictors of Treatment Referral after AUDIT-C Screening for Heavy Drinking. Addiction Disorders & Their Treatment. PMID: 30271280 [external]

Miller KE,
Jamison AL, Gala S, Woodward SH. Two Independent Predictors of Nightmares in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.PMID: 30373691 [external] 

Bachrach RL, Blosnich JR, Williams EC. Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention in a Representative Sample of Veterans Receiving Primary Care Services. Journal of Substance Abuse TreatmentPMID: 30352666 [external]

Gujral S, Aizenstein H, Reynolds CF 3rd, Butters MA, Grove G, Karp JF, Erickson KI. Exercise for Depression: A Feasibility Trial Exploring Neural Mechanisms. American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.PMID: 30797651 [external] 


Bonfils KA, Lysaker PH, Minor KS, Salyers MP. Metacognition, Personal Distress, and Performance-Based Empathy in Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin. PMID: 30281088 [external] 

Khazanov GK, Ruscio AM, Swendsen J. The “Brightening” Effect: Reactions to Positive Events in the Daily Lives of Individuals with Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Behavior TherapyPMID: 30824245 [external] 

Iasella CJ, Kreider MS, Huang L, Coons JC, Stevenson, JM. Effect of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors on Cardiovascular Outcomes After Percutaneous Coronary Intervention: A Retrospective Cohort Study. Clinical Drug InvestigationPMID: 30900189 [external] 

Bonfils KA, Ventura J, Subotnik KL, Nuechterlein KH. Affective Prosody and Facial Emotion Recognition in First-Episode Schizophrenia: Associations with Functioning & Symptoms. Schizophrenia Research: CognitionPMID: 31497511 [external] 

Hartwell EE, Bujarkski S, Green R, Ray LA. Convergence between the Penn Alcohol Craving Scale and Diagnostic Interview for the Assessment of Alcohol Craving. Addictive Behaviors Reports. PMID: 31304230 [external] 

Hartwell EE, Kranzler HR. Pharmacogenetics of Alcohol Use Disorder Treatments: An Update. Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology. PMID: 31162983 [external]   

Lookatch SJ, Wimberly AS, McKay JR. Effects of Social Support and 12-Step Involvement on Recovery among People in Continuing Care for Cocaine Dependence. Substance Use and Misuse. PMID: 31322037 [external]  

Longenecker JM, Krueger RF, Sponheim SR. Personality Traits Across the Psychosis Spectrum: A Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology Conceptualization of Clinical Symptomatology. Personality and Mental Health, Early View. PMID: 31309736 [external]   

Miller KE, Gehrman PR. REM Sleep: What Is It Good For? Current BiologyPMID: 31430480 [external]  

Miller KE, Brownlow JA, Gehrman PR. Sleep in PTSD: Treatment Approaches and Outcomes. Current Opinion in Psychology. PMID: 31541965 [external]  

Khazanov GK, Ruscio AM, Forbes CN. The Positive Valence Systems Scale: Development and Validation. AssessmentPMID: 31416336 [external]   

Tighe CA, Youk A, Ibrahim SA, Weiner DK, Vina ER, Kwoh CK, Gallagher RM, Bramoweth AD, Hausmann LRM. Pain Catastrophizing and Arthritis Self-Efficacy as Mediators of Sleep Disturbance and Osteoarthritis Symptom Severity. Pain Medicine. PMID: 31504838 [external] 

Bonfils KA, Haas GL, Salyers MP. Emotion-Specific Performance Across Empathy Tasks in Schizophrenia: Influence of Metacognitive Capacity. Schizophrenia Research: CognitionPMID: 31828016 [external]  


The Advanced Fellowship in Mental Illness Research and Treatment at our Philadelphia and Pittsburgh sites is part of a national postdoctoral program with both psychology and physician tracks designed to help develop outstanding scientists who will lead mental health research relevant to Veterans and translate it into clinical practice. More information—including program expectations and application requirements, deadlines, and contacts—is available here.

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David W. Oslin, M.D.
Director, VISN 4 MIRECC
Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center