eNewsletter Articles

Featured Alumna

Dr. Galina A. Portnoy, PhD

Dr. Galina Portnoy is a 2017 graduate of the Advanced Fellowship in Women’s Health at VA Connecticut. She is a research psychologist at VA Connecticut Healthcare System (VACHS) and Assistant Professor at Yale School of Medicine. Before coming to VA CT, Galina trained as a clinical and community psychologist and received her PhD from the University of Maryland Baltimore County after completing a pre-doctoral clinical internship at VA Boston Healthcare System.

The Women’s Health fellowship gave Galina the experience and contacts she needed and positioned her to establish an independent program of research in intimate partner violence (IPV) prevention. With the invaluable support of her fellowship mentors, Drs. Sally Haskell and Cindy Brandt, Galina was able to conduct several impactful studies using survey data her mentors had collected as part of the Women Veteran Cohort Study (WVCS). Additionally, she was able to add a measure of IPV perpetration to the subsequent wave of data collection, which enabled her to move forward with the next steps in her research plan and grant submissions.

Following completion of the AFWH, Dr. Portnoy received a VISN 1 Career Development Award (2017-2019) followed by an HSR&D Career Development Award (2020-2025) to develop and evaluate comprehensive screening and treatment for IPV perpetration among Veterans under the continued mentorship of her fellowship Director, Dr. Sally Haskell and with the additional mentorship of Dr. Kate Iverson.

As a result of her success in fellowship, research awards, and mentoring received, Galina was able to continue her trajectory by receiving funding to develop and direct the first National IPV Assistance Program “Innovation Hub”, the IPV Center for Innovation and Research (IPV-CIR). The goal of the IPV-CIR is to develop, disseminate, implement, and evaluate innovative, high-quality, Veteran centered, trauma-informed, and recovery-oriented practices for IPV detection, prevention, and treatment, particularly related to IPV perpetration. Additionally, Galina and the IPV-CIR have recently begun collaborating with the Center for Women Veterans to develop a report of secondary analyses of IPV prevalence among Veterans as part of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R. 7105), Section 5305. Findings from this report will be used to inform recommendations on improvements in equitable access to and use of healthcare-related to IPV among Veterans.

Dr. Portnoy is overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunities and mentorship she received through the AFWH. It is these experiences that enabled her to set her sights on a blended career in research, clinical work, implementation science, and healthcare policy in the service of enhancing relationship health and safety among Veterans.

Career Development Awards—Application Experience

By Chandra Khalifian, PhD

During fellowship, I led the development of and piloted the first comprehensive couple-based suicide-specific intervention called Treatment for Relationships and Safety Together (TR&ST). My RR&D CDA-2 will refine and examine preliminary efficacy of TR&ST in a randomized controlled trial.

What insights and advice can you provide for fellows interested in applying for a CDA? 

Connect your research passion with an identified VA clinical need. My work has focused on promoting healthy intimate relationships, and relationship distress is a consistent predictor of suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Suicide prevention is the VA’s number one clinical priority; however, no interventions reliably included relationship partners. We developed TR&ST in response to this observed clinical gap. Second, lean on the postdocs around you. I had several examples of successfully funded CDAs and consistent

support from those postdocs. Finally, present to professional groups (e.g., WH or National Center for PTSD) to get feedback on feasibility, methodology, and fit with VA priorities.

How did the WH fellowship help you in the application process? 

We have a very close-knit, supportive group of WH fellows and mentors. My mentor, Dr. Leslie Morland, provided consistent guidance and connected me with other distinguished couple and suicide researchers who have become consultants on my CDA. WH colleagues across the US, who have recently completed fellowship and/or CDAs, were also available as resources. I am happy to help current CDA applicants. Reach out!

What were some challenges you faced? 

Personal life does not stop while applying for a CDA. My father and stepfather both passed away during the application process— highlighting the importance of a supportive mentor who facilitated the ability to be with my family while writing.

What are your future aspirations? 

My overarching career goal is to become an independent, externally funded, investigator within VHA focused on delineating the relationship between suicidal ideation, interpersonal processes, and comorbid psychopathology. I am particularly interested in developing, implementing, and evaluating best couple-based practices for the prevention and treatment of suicidal ideation and behaviors among Veterans.

Career Development Awards—One Year In…

By Tiffany Kim, MD

I started my CDA in May 2020, about one year ago. There were several unexpected challenges, including the pandemic, delays with getting service contracts set up, and the complicated process of starting up a study from scratch. It took several months to get quotes, find and involve all the necessary people, make final decisions on study measurements, and have my in-service meeting, but I am excited that everything was completed, and I am now enrolling study participants.

This has been a great hands-on experience in learning how clinical research works and how to be principal investigator. I am grateful to the VA Women’s Health Fellowship for giving me the resources to not only generate crucial preliminary data that lead to my study being selected for funding, but also the time to establish important connections with mentors and advisors that will be critical for the success of my project. For fellows who have just had CDAs awarded, I would recommend making local connections with other CDA awardees or early-stage colleagues for advice and moral support. The VA is a big place and each institution is unique, so it is really helpful to troubleshoot with other people who are facing similar issues.

She Wears the Boots – Reaching Women Veterans

 By Wendy Fahlgren

Women service members are the fastest growing group of VA patients. To educate current and former women service members on available VA services that address the unique needs of women, we have created She Wears the Boots: A Podcast for Women Veterans. The podcast is intended to connect, educate, and enhance the lives of women by sharing information on topics such as VA delivery of comprehensive women’s health, maternity care, infertility care, and how to access information from the Women Veterans Call Center.

The Iowa City VA Health Care System is the proud home of She Wears the Boots. This official VA-sponsored podcast is co-hosted by Wendy Fahlgren LISW, Women Veteran Program Manager  and Nicole Loew PhD, RN, a VA Quality Scholar.  The goal of She Wears the Boots is to provide information about resources and services in the VA that can foster resiliency and life enrichment.

In each episode, the co-hosts interview a VA leader in women’s health to ensure that every 20-30 minute episode is jam-packed with information that has the potential to improve the listeners’ lives. The podcast is available on both Apple iOS and Android operating systems and can be listened to – for free – from all major streaming platforms including Spreaker and iTunes. Enjoy!