ACT on Health Lab

Support and Education for Returning Veterans


The overall aim of the SERVE project is to address the needs of veterans returning from the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (OIF/OEF/OND) with polytrauma (mild traumatic brain injury, psychological distress, and pain). Specifically, we seek to improve symptoms of distress and bolster functioning and reintegration by providing a veteran-centered, non-stigmatizing, one-day “life skills group workshop."

Background Information

  • Over two million service members have been deployed to military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.
  • Mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) is a signature wound of these conflicts.
  • Most veterans with a mTBI diagnosis also have a mental health disorder (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder) and chronic pain (i.e., the polytrauma clinical triad).
  • This polytrauma clinical triad causes profound emotional distress and difficulties with family and community reintegration that veterans may turn to maladaptive avoidant coping strategies. These strategies offer short term relief but have detrimental long-term effects on quality of life (e.g. alcohol/drug use, social isolation).
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a transdiagnostic treatment that targets avoidance-based coping.

In a pilot study, we tailored our one-day ACT workshop for OIF/OEF/OND veterans with the polytrauma clinical triad. Veterans who attended this workshop exhibited significant drops in distress and improvements in reintegration over and above those veterans who received usual care.

The current study is a four-year randomized controlled trial comparing the efficacy of a one-day ACT plus education, resources, and support workshop (ACT+ERS) to an education, resources, and support (ERS) only workshop on improvements in reintegration and distress. Each month, six-to-seven veterans are recruited and randomly assigned to attend either the ACT +ERS workshop or ERS only workshop.

Study Specifications

  • Sample Size: 212 veterans (N=106/group)
  • Recruiting ~ six-to-seven participants each month for 3.5 years
  • Intervention groups: ACT plus Education (ACT+ERS) or ERS (Education, Resources, Support)
  • One workshop / month (either ACT+ERS or ERS only)

Study Contact

Contact Name: Merlyn Rodrigues
Phone Number: 713-440-4424