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Strengthening Excellence in Research through Veteran Engagement (SERVE) Toolkit 2.0

SERVE Toolkit for Veteran Engagement , V1


About this Toolkit

The purpose of the Strengthening Excellence in Research through Veteran Engagement (SERVE) Toolkit is to support VA Research Centers and investigators in efforts to include Veterans and other stakeholders in the development, implementation, and dissemination of research studies. The Toolkit was developed through a collaborative process that included representatives from 7 VA hospitals where Veteran Engagement in Research is an established priority.

The goal of the SERVE Toolkit is to provide guidance to VA Research Centers and investigators to support the development of opportunities for Veterans to be engaged in the research that we conduct. There are many approaches to engaging Veterans across VA. The information presented here is a synthesis of a range of successful practices that we learned about during the process of creating this Toolkit.

The Toolkit is comprised of five sections, four of which correspond to a stage of development for Veteran Engagement initiatives and a fifth that focuses specifically on evaluation. The sixth section is web-based and contains a number of useful resources that have either been developed by VA colleagues or that our team identified as being useful for engaged research efforts. Each of the first five sections can be reviewed or downloaded as individual PDFs. You can also choose to download the entire Toolkit (except the web-based resources).

Members of the SERVE Team that worked together to develop this Toolkit include:


Center for Healthcare Organization & Implementation Research (CHOIR)
ENRM VA Hospital, Bedford
MA Justeen Hyde, PhD (SERVE Co-Lead)
Anna Barker, MPH
Gemmae Fix, PhD
Carolyn J. Wehler, RDH, MPH


Center for Veteran-centric and Value-driven Research (DiSCoVVR)
VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System
Kelty Fehling, MPH (Co-Site Lead)
Leah Wendleton, MPH, MSW (Co-Site Lead)
Paige Backlund, DrPH
Kathryn Nearing, PhD
Amber Lane, BS
Gretchen Stage, MA


Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care Durham VA Medical Center
Jennifer Gierisch, PhD, MPH (Site Lead)
Brandolyn White, MPH


Center for Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research and Evaluation (CADRE)
Kenda Steffensmeier, PhD (Site Lead)


Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation & Policy (CSHIIP)
VA Greater Los Angeles Health Care System
Alison B. Hamilton, PhD, MPH (Site Lead)


Clement J Zablocki VA Medical Center
Jeff Whittle, MD, MPH (Site Lead)
Kristyn Ertl, BA, CCRC
Mark Flower


South Central MIRECC & Southeastern Louisiana VA Health Care System
Gala True, PhD (Site Lead)
Raymond Facundo, MSW


Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC) VA Portland Health Care System
Sarah Ono, PhD (SERVE Co-Lead)
Mary Frances Ritchie, MPH
Rachel Matsumoto, MS
Linda Ganzini, MD, MPH


Pain Research, Informatics, Multi-morbidities, and Education (PRIME) Center
Kathryn LaChappelle, MPH (Site Lead)

Support for this project came from:

VHA Health Services Research & Development, SIP 17-152 (PI: Sarah Ono)

Suggested citation:

Hyde J, Wendleton L, Fehling K, Whittle J, True G, Hamilton A, Gierisch JM, Ertl K, Fix G, Barker A, Wehler CJ, White B, Ritchie MF, Ono SS. Strengthening Excellence in Research through Veteran Engagement (SERVE): Toolkit for Veteran Engagement in Research (Version 1). Veterans Health Administration, Health Services Research and Development, 2018. Available at:

SERVE 2.0:

Since 2018 when the SERVE toolkit was first published many exciting steps have been made to move Veteran Engagement forward. Centers of Innovation (COINs) around the country have established active Veteran Engagement Groups (VEGs), while national-level research COREs have established topic-specific VEGs to help guide their research agendas. In 2020, the Growing Rural Outreach through Veteran Engagement (GROVE) Center was funded by the Office of Rural Health to promote rural Veteran engagement and to create resources and support for stakeholders working to engage Veterans in multiple areas of research and operations. Through this work new knowledge has been gained related not only to rural Veteran Engagement but also within some of the well-established areas of Veteran Engagement.


We have updated the SERVE toolkit to share what we have learned. Some of the major updates are:

  • addition of a FAQ section on photovoice/photo elicitation studies (see section 6.12),
  • update to the compensation section including a case study of one Veteran’s experiences and the lessons learned (see section 1.8),
  • addition of specific Veteran Engagement strategies focused on rural Veterans (see section 2.1),
  • addition of lessons learned related to distributing technology (see section 1.4 and section 2.2),
  • update to facilitation resources and to example materials (see section 3.5),
  • information on best practices related to making connections with Veteran Service Organizations (see section 6.12),
  • and best practices for engaging virtually as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shape our social interactions (see section 1.4).

We hope that you find these updates to be helpful and if you have any questions about GROVE or rural outreach, please contact: Kelty Fehling ( or Leah Wendleton (

The views expressed in this document are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Government.

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