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USD Researchers Receive Grant to Improve Veteran Mental Health and Well-Being

A beautiful, classic picture of Old Main on USD USD professors of psychology Raluca Simons, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Simons, Ph.D. are leading a group of researchers in a study that monitors veterans' mental health and well-being.

VERMILLION S.D. – University of South Dakota researchers led by Raluca Simons, Ph.D., and Jeffrey Simons, Ph.D., received a grant to study veteran mental health and well-being.

The grant, awarded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), will fund their research that takes an in-depth look at factors impacting veterans’ lives, including health risks like alcohol and violence and resilience factors like social support and romantic relationships.

The group will work with USD student veterans as well as veterans from Vermillion, Sioux Falls, Sioux City and Bay Pines, Florida.

"Working with veterans has been great. They are resourceful people who have had some amazing life-changing experiences,” said Jeffrey. “These veterans have also risked their lives for our country. They deserve the absolute best in health care and our research will identify novel treatment targets that may be incorporated into their standard of care.”

In this study, each participant will wear a wristband or ring monitor to track sleep patterns and heart rate variability. They will also use an application to assess patterns in mood, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, interpersonal relationships and health behaviors. It is consistent with the NIMH strategic plan to develop novel therapeutic interventions using a mechanism-informed experimental approach.

“Along with the very interesting and impactful research being conducted, this is the first federally funded registered clinical trial at USD,” said Jeffrey. “We really want to extend a thank you to the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and USD for not only joining us in these efforts but allowing us to help better the lives of veterans in this country.”

Jeffrey and Raluca will conduct this study over the next five years, and throughout their research, they hope to increase the general public’s awareness of the cost of posttraumatic stress to individuals, families, society and future generations.

Raluca is a professor of psychology and the director of the Disaster Mental Health Institute at USD. She has long focused her research on traumatic stress. Her work with military veterans during her clinical internship at Bay Pines Veteran Affairs Medical Clinic in Florida resulted in a long-term commitment to helping the latest generation of veterans.

Jeffrey is a professor of psychology at USD. His research has focused on emotional and behavior regulation, with an emphasis on connections with health-risk behavior which includes sexual risk behavior as well as alcohol and drug use disorders. 

Raluca and Jeffrey have been reviewing for National Institutes of Health and Veterans Affairs research panels for many years and have been shaping the future of PTSD research in the country. Locally, Raluca and Jeffrey are currently working with Brian Burrell, Ph.D., basic biomedical sciences professor in the USD Sanford School of Medicine to create an interdisciplinary trauma and PTSD center (CRPT) in Vermillion. This will be the first center of its kind in South Dakota and, if funded, it will have a major impact on veterans’ health in the the region.

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USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.

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Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 202 undergraduate and 78 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, Knudson School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 16:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 18 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.

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