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Defense Health Agency Strategic Research Plans: Defining Priorities to Deliver Solutions

By Sharmila Chari, Ph.D. and Fuad Issa, M.D.
May 15, 2024

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Deja Thomas
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Deja Thomas

What are Defense Health Agency Strategic Research Plans and how do they apply to clinicians and clinical communities?

Consider this: If you were planning to build a home, you wouldn’t begin the project without a blueprint. To make your home a reality, you would need specific plans for how aspects of the project will be completed. If you are nodding your head and thinking “of course not,” you are familiar with strategic planning.

Strategic planning is the drafting of an integrated set of choices that together position an organization to be successful and superior relative to competitive organizations. A strategic plan should address key questions related to high priorities, outline key steps or activities needed to address the priorities, and define solutions to make progress toward closing identified research gaps. Subsequent investment plans then need to align with the overarching strategy.

Beginning in 2021, the DHA Research and Engineering Directorate tasked the Science and Technology Portfolio Management Branch to collaborate with the services and relevant Department of Defense agencies to develop strategies for military medical research to inform Defense Health Program Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation appropriation’s science and technology investments.1

To support DHA’s strategic goals, STPMB is developing SRPs for priority research areas within the Military Health System that span several portfolios, including Traumatic Brain Injury and Psychological Health. These plans are derived from joint capability requirements and gaps and are the outcome of collective input from stakeholder and subject matter experts regarding priority military medical research needs. For the Psychological Health Portfolio, behavioral health providers, policy makers, senior leaders, funders of mental health research, and academics, along with the priorities of Congress and the administration, contributed to the plan. Specific to psychological health, it is essential to have a shared view of the challenges and priorities for mental health research which can be used by all involved in mental health and research funding bodies.

There are several compelling reasons to develop and implement enterprise-wide SRPs, including improving health and building readiness of service members through addressing translational pathways of research efforts to product development teams, health care providers, and end users. We listened to feedback from senior leaders, stakeholders, and providers; some of the key takeaways from our discussions were:

  • Target priorities should be driven by service members’ needs and portfolio balance, not just by scientific curiosity.
  • Cross-cutting interventions are emphasized to deal with interconnected issues.
  • Information sharing can help stakeholders with priority alignment.

So how does the DHA Psychological Health SRP relate to providers and clinical teams?

  • Investments made that are aligned to these plans will help improve the body of knowledge that policymakers and practitioners rely on to promote the health and well-being of the military community.
  • The plans will provide clarity and alignment by highlighting evidence-based solutions that could be implemented in your setting, resulting in improved transition planning and end-user coordination.

What can you do as a provider?

Clinicians and researchers across disciplines play a critical role in research strategy implementation and translation. We need to work together to meet the goals of the DHA Psychological Health SRP and connect areas of research that have not previously been connected. Researchers will need to engage with and understand policies and practices of the behavioral health clinical communities as well. By clearly delineating the current psychological health challenges and research priorities, we anticipate a twofold outcome:

  • Guide the research community and clinicians to begin addressing these questions; and
  • Reinvigorate interest in scientific research as it applies to the psychological health of the military community.

Mental health research is important in driving innovation in current mental health care, and in bringing hope for the future. Research improves our understanding of the causes and risk factors for mental health problems, supports promotion and prevention initiatives helping people to stay well, and provides evidence on how innovative approaches can be put into practice in the health care system and in wider settings. This DHA Psychological Health SRP demonstrates the continued commitment to strengthen the psychological health and wellbeing of the military community. As the saying goes “It takes a village to raise a child.” We need to work together to build a stronger and healthier military community. 


  1. Joint Chiefs of Staff. (2019). Joint Doctrine Note 2-19. U.S. Department of Defense.

Sharmila Chari, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist by training. She is currently serving as a contracted senior scientific advisor at the Psychological Health Center of Excellence. She has experience in psychological health research portfolio management, program development, conducting research and evaluation for serious mental illnesses and substance use disorders, equitable mental health care delivery, and trauma-informed programs.

Fuad Issa, M.D., is a psychiatrist and is currently the DHP Portfolio Manager for the DHA Psychological Health Portfolio. He previously led the Clinical Care portfolio within PHCoE and was the executive director for the DOD Addictive Substance Misuse Advisory Committee.

Last Updated: May 23, 2024
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