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The staff of the Vets Return Home Research Group are dedicated to understanding the everyday human challenges and problems facing veterans returning home. They all believe that with the help of returning veterans, research can hold the key to a smoother and healthier transition home; not only for participating veterans but also for future veterans returning from conflict zones.

Karen Seal - Principal Investigator

            Karen Seal, MD, MPH is a Professor of Medicine and Psychiatry in Residence at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and is based at the San Francisco VA Health Care System (SFVAHCS). Dr. Seal attended Stanford University School of Medicine where she received her medical degree, followed by residency training in Primary Care Internal Medicine at UCSF. Subsequently, she received a Masters of Public Health degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

            As a primary care internist at the SFVAHCS, she serves as Director of both the Integrated Care Clinic for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and the Integrated Pain Team Clinic, both of which integrate and co-locate primary care, mental health and other relevant health care services to support the needs of these patient populations.  In these roles and as a health services researcher, she has dedicated her career to leveraging national VA data to answer important research questions and to testing novel interventions to address mental and physical health problems among high-risk veterans. Some of her current and recent research studies include:
  • A randomized controlled trial (RCT) of telephone motivational coaching to improve chronic pain self-management and opioid risk reduction among veterans (National Center for Complimentary and Integrative Health, NIH),
  • A multi-site pragmatic RCT of telephone motivational coaching to enhance mental health care engagement among rural veterans with mental health problems (VA Health Services Research and Development, VA HSR&D),
  • A project to develop and test a virtual reality-based training for primary care providers to train them in the assessment and management of veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program, Department of Defense),
  • A quality improvement study to evaluate and disseminate an integrated pain team model of care throughout the San Francisco VA Health Care System (VA Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, VA QUERI). 
  • A trial comparing the effectiveness of a biopsychosocial versus pharmacist-led approach to chronic pain management and opioid safety in veterans at multiple VA sites across the U.S (Patient Centered Outcomes Research and Initiative, PCORI).
  • A project to implement and spread a Mind-Body Skills training for SFVAHCS staff to enhance self-awareness and decrease stress and burn-out.
NIH Talks:
           Dr. Seal is passionate about promoting whole-person wellness care (as opposed to disease- focused care).  She is chairing an Advisory Committee on Integrative Health to plan and evaluate the implementation of complementary and integrative health programs throughout the San Francisco VA Health Care System.  Dr. Seal and colleagues recently received a grant from the VA Office of Patient-Centered Care to partner with them to implement Whole Health Care throughout the SFVAHCS.

Please click here to download complete CV.

Linda Abadjian, PhD - Clinical Interviewer

Linda Abadjian received her BA in Government with an emphasis in International Economics from the University of San Francisco. She interned at the San Francisco District Attorneys in the Family Support Bureau before pursuing a career in psychology. She received her MS in Clinical Psychology at San Francisco State University while working within community mental health. She received her PhD. in Clinical Psychology from the Wright Institute in Berkeley and was an intern at the Burrell Center in Missouri. Linda began at the San Francisco VA in 2002 as a clinical assessor and has been working with the Vets Return Home research team since 2006. She also conducts psychological evaluations and neuropsychological assessments for multiple studies. Her research interests include veterans' mental health, trauma, alternative methods of psychotherapy, and investigating the impact of HIV, PTSD, and alcohol on neurocognitive functioning.

Daniel Bertenthal, MPH - Statistician

Dan Bertenthal received his BA in Sociology of Culture and BS in Microbiology from the University of California, San Diego. He continued at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, where he developed quantitative skills while completing an MPH in Epidemiology & Biostatistics. He has worked with health services researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center since 2001.

Ashley Feuchs, MPH - Project Coordinator

Ashley Feuchs received her BA in World Arts and Cultures from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and her MPH from Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health.  She has worked with the CDC's Office of International Cancer Control, and with Emory University on researching mental health and substance abuse amongst youth in the juvenile justice system.  She served in the Peace Corps from 2012-2015 in Zambia as a community health volunteer and as field coordinator for USAID's Feed the Future climate change initiative.  Ashley is currently coordinating the VOICE study, integrative health programming, and serves as a Whole Health coach.

Carolyn Gibson - QUERI Study

Carolyn Gibson is an Advanced Fellow in Women's Health at the San Francisco VA, providing clinical services and conducting research focused on women's health related to menopause and aging. She received her PhD in Clinical-Health Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh, and completed clinical internship at VA Puget Sound, Seattle. Previously, she received a BA in Psychology from the University of Virginia, an MPH from Dartmouth, and worked in women's health research at the National Institutes of Health and the Journal of Women's Health. In QUERI, she is examining gender-specific chronic pain care needs and reproductive and mental health concerns among female patients, with the goal of understanding how to better provide integrated pain care to women in the historically male-dominated VA health care setting.

Joe Grasso - QUERI Study


Coleen Hill, BA - Clinical Research Project Coordinator

Coleen Hill received her BA in Public Health and certificate in Clinical Research Conduct and Management from the University of California, Berkeley.  Prior to coming to the VA, she worked at a biotechnology company focusing on oncology.  She is currently the Project Coordinator for the COACH and ACCESS studies.

Jerrol Kimmel, RN, MA - Whole Health

Jerrol Kimmel, RN, MA began her career in community mental health and the healing arts in 1975 with a BA in psychology from UC Berkeley. In 1983 she completed a nursing program to integrate Western Medicine with holistic practices. She received her Master’s degree in Integrative Health Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA.

As a long time faculty member of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, she participates in the Center’s professional training programs in the United States and internationally, including training health and mental health professionals in Israel, Gaza and Haiti in psychological self care and group support. She is also part of the team providing training in self care and mind-body medicine at the Eskenazi Health System in Indiannapolis as well as the Greater Houston Healing Collaborative:  A Psychosocial Disaster Response. She currently works with Veterans at the VA Health Care System in San Francisco facilitating mind-body skills groups and as a Whole Health Coach as well as is a faculty member for Communities, a mind-body skills and resilience program for teens living with chronic illness and their parents. Jerrol has maintained a long time private practice integrating mind-body approaches in working with healthy lifestyle change for personal growth, managing stress and emotional eating. She is a clinical supervisor for candidates enrolled in CMBM’s certification program and served as an adjunct faculty member in the College of Mind-Body Medicine at Saybrook University.

Yongmei Li, PhD  - Biostatistician

Yongmei Li received her PhD in Public Health from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, with a focus on health econometrics and international health. She has experience analyzing observational and experimental data in epidemiological and health services research. Her interests include aligning data management and analysis with the study design, and learning analytical techniques in the face of combined challenges of data sources and epidemiology

Nicole McCamish, MA - Program Manager

Nicole McCamish received her BA in Psychology from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and her MA in Psychology from West Chester University in Pennsylvania.   She has completed internships at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, UCLA Semel Institute and San Francisco General Hospital.  Before working at the SFVAMC Nicole worked for the Institutional Review Board at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.  Nicole has worked at the San Francisco VA Medical Center for over 9 years.  She has experience coordinating research studies, developing and managing budgets, grant submission, IRB and regulatory requirements. When not working at the VA, Nicole likes spending time with her family and practicing mixed martial arts.

Sarah Palyo, PhD, CPE - QUERI Study

Sarah Palyo is a clinical psychologist and the Clinical Director of the Intensive Pain Rehabilitation Program and the Clinical Director of the Integrated Pain Team for the San Francisco VA Healthcare System. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed her clinical internship at the Palo Alto VA Healthcare System.  She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Stanford University's Behavioral Medicine Clinic. She is a Certified Pain Educator (CPE) credentialed by the American Society of Pain Educators. Dr. Palyo specializes in the assessment and treatment of co-occurring chronic pain conditions and psychiatric disorders, with an emphasis on CBT and ACT based interventions. Dr. Palyo helped to develop San Francisco VA’s Intensive Pain Rehabilitation Program, which is the CARF-accredited, tertiary pain program for VISN21. She also received funding from the Office of Rural Health to help develop the Integrated Pain Team for the San Francisco VA’s rural CBOCs. She is a Director of the San Francisco VA’s SCAN-ECHO program, which provides education and consultation to providers on a variety of health conditions all across VISN21, including the Manila VA Clinic in the Philippines. She also serves as a member of the SFVAHCS Pain Committee, the VISN21 Pain Committee, and past planning committees for the UCSF Pain Summit. Dr. Palyo's research interests include co-occurring chronic pain and PTSD, interdisciplinary treatments for chronic pain, and the role of technology in pain education.

Natalie Purcell, PhD, MPA - QUERI Study

Natalie Purcell is a sociologist who specializes in mixed qualitative methods drawn from the social sciences and humanities.  She earned her PhD in Sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2011, and is currently an affiliated faculty member in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences at UCSF and the Patient Centered Care Program Director at the San Francisco VA Health Care System.  Since joining the VA in 2011, her work has focused on the creation and oversight of programs, projects, and events geared at personalizing patients’ care experience and fostering a more proactive, integrative, and wellness-oriented healthcare culture. She is currently serving as a co-investigator leading the qualitative components of a large, multi-year quality improvement study evaluating the impact of an integrated pain care intervention across several primary care clinics.  In recent years, she also led a mixed-methods quality improvement study geared at understanding and addressing violence among veterans of the US military, and exploring interventions to reduce aggression directed against frontline healthcare workers.  As a Fellow at the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (2011-2013), she supported VA’s efforts to rehabilitate violent veteran offenders by enhancing services offered to veterans in the criminal justice system, researching violence prevention programming, and heling to bring a new evidence-based batterer intervention program to the San Francisco VA.

Tessa Rife, PharmD, BCGP, CACP - QUERI Study

As clinical pharmacy specialist within the Addiction Recovery Treatment Services (ARTS) program at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System (SFVAHCS), she works on the Addiction Consult and Prescription Opioid Safety Team (AddCon/POST). AddCon/POST is an interdisciplinary team available for consultation to all services across SFVAHCS. Her primary clinical responsibilities are to: assess patients for history of pain, mental health conditions, and substance use; evaluate for substance use disorders (SUDs), risk for developing SUDs, risk for adverse effects, and impact from co-occurring mental health and SUDs; and provide recommendations to the consulting provider/primary care team to enhance safety. Her additional clinical roles include working with patients to provide education on the risks of sedative hypnotic drugs, offering supported sedative hypnotic tapering, providing opioid overdose education, and offering patients naloxone kits. She also serves as the Academic Detailing (AD) Program Manager at SFVAHCS and provides interactive educational outreach to members of the healthcare team to improve patient care outcomes. Key areas of outreach include opioid and sedative hypnotic safety, acute and chronic pain management, naloxone kits, and substance use disorders. She also serves on the National AD Service Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Workgroup, and her main responsibility is to develop a new clinician fact sheet for managing patients with PTSD and history of substance use, pain, traumatic brain injury, suicidality, and/or psychiatric comorbidity. In addition, she participates in SFVAHCS quality improvement projects focused on reducing co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines, increasing use of the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT-C), increasing clinician awareness and access to prescribing alcohol use disorder pharmacotherapy, improving patient access to naloxone kits, and evaluating improvements in opioid safety and multi-modal pain care management with the SFVAHCS Interdisciplinary Pain Team.

Gary Tarasovsky, BS - Data Manager

  Gary Tarasovsky received his BS in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has extensive experience performing data management, database design, and application development for several large scale studies.

Jenny Tighe, MSPH - Study Coordinator

Jenny Tighe earned her MS in Public Health Degree from Johns Hopkins, with a concentration in Global Disease Epidemiology and Control. She received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua from 2010-2012. Before joining the research team, she worked as a research analyst in health economics and clinical outcomes research at Cedar Associates in Menlo Park, CA. She has been with the VA since November 2015 and is the Study Coordinator for the OPTI and QUERI studies.

Ana-Marie Urbieta, ASW - Veteran Peer Coach

Ana-Marie Urbieta received her BA at San Francisco State University in Family and Consumer Sciences and her MSW at University of Southern California focusing on Health Social Work.  She completed internships with Health Leads in pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Richmond Medical Center, and Golden State Adult Day Health Care Center in San Francisco. Ana-Marie is an Army veteran with eight years experience in the Signal Corp. She has been at the San Francisco VA Medical Center since 2015 and is currently working as a Research Assistant for the OPTI study, and a Veteran Peer Coach for the COACH study.

Kara Zamora, MA - Qualitative Analyst

Kara Zamora received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and her MA in Applied Anthropology with a focus on Medical Anthropology from California State University East Bay (CSUEB). During her MA program she worked as a Research Intern at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical School’s Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine (DAHSM) on an R01 focusing on chronic non-cancer pain management in safety net primary care settings. Upon completing her Research Internship she was hired as a staff researcher in DAHSM and remained there until coming to San Francisco VA in 2015. Currently, she is working as a qualitative analyst across the COACH, ACCESS and QUERI QI projects.