Department of Veterans Affairs Honors Dr. David Cifu for Pioneering Traumatic Brain Injury Research

The Paul B. Magnuson Award, which recognizes entrepreneurship and dedication to veterans, is the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Service’s highest honor.

David Cifu, M.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and associate dean of innovation and systems integration at VCU School of Medicine, is this year’s recipient of the Paul B. Magnuson Award. Established by the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation Research and Development Service in 1998, the award recognizes the importance of rehabilitation research within the VA Health Care System.

"Dr. Cifu is nationally regarded as VA's leading researcher in combat-related neurotrauma,” said J. Ronald Johnson, FACHE, director of the Central Virginia VA Health Care System in Richmond. “Through his many collaborative efforts, he has brought together more than 100 researchers to translate neuroscience research to clinical care for veterans with disability.”

Cifu, whose first experience with the VA was as a student at Boston University School of Medicine, was the principal investigator for the Chronic Effects of Neurotrauma Consortium, or CENC, funded by the VA and the U.S. Department of Defense in 2013. He is now leading its successor, the Long-term Impact of Military Relevant Brain Injury Consortium, or LIMBIC. This longitudinal study, which spans a national consortium of universities, hospitals and clinics, is investigating the ongoing health impacts of combat concussions. Researchers have already discovered correlations between traumatic brain injuries and dementia, Parkinson’s disease, chronic pain, opioid usage and suicide risk.

Joe Montanari, who has experienced balance issues, sleep troubles and severe migraines since sustaining two mild brain injuries during active duty in the Army and National Guard, is one of thousands of veteran participants in the LIMBIC research. He is also a research assistant in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“This is my first desk job, and he has really helped me relax more and adjust to being inside,” Montanari said.

Working alongside Cifu and other researchers in this role has helped keep him grounded and connected with fellow veterans. Montanari’s main objective is to retain as many participants in the study as possible so the consortium can continue collecting data that will improve prevention and treatment of traumatic brain injuries and related conditions.

For Cifu, working closely with military veterans like Montanari has reinforced the importance of thinking long-term rather than focusing on singular tasks.

“I have learned that there are many components, many contributors and many ‘battles’ that must be overcome to accomplish the larger mission,” Cifu said. “Most importantly, I have learned that nothing of great importance is achieved by luck, by simply wishing for it, by going solo or overnight, but rather the meaningful accomplishments come about by hard work, perseverance, planning and teamwork.”

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According to School of Medicine Dean Peter Buckley, M.D., this prestigious award from the Department of Veterans Affairs is a well-deserved testament to the ongoing and lasting impact of Cifu’s research.

“Dr. Cifu’s unrelenting commitment to connecting the dots between traumatic brain injuries and long-term secondary conditions exemplifies the School of Medicine’s mission to develop more effective health care practices to address the needs of the diverse populations we serve,” said Buckley. “We are immensely proud and grateful to Dr. Cifu for his continuous innovation, leadership and dedication to improving the lives of American veterans and service members.”

The Magnuson Award is one of numerous accolades for Cifu, and it reflects what he describes as the most rewarding part of his work: contributing to the improvement of people’s lives.

“I have been privileged for more than three decades to contribute to the well-being of America’s heroes and have been so grateful to be able to play a role in improving their specific health care, their access to health care and the system of care that will allow them to have enhanced care in the future,” Cifu said.

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