Serving those who serve us


Serving those who serve us

A Queen’s-based research institute has been at the forefront of improving the health and well-being of Canadian Armed Forces veterans, military personnel, and their families.

By Andrew Willson, Senior Communications Officer

January 24, 2024


Canadian Armed Forces personnel

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR) has been helping improve health outcomes through research for the past 13 years. (Sgt Shilo Adamson, Canadian Forces Recruiting Group Headquarters, CFB Borden)

Canadian military personnel, veterans, and their families have significantly greater risks of experiencing many health problems than the civilian population, including mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as common musculoskeletal conditions like arthritis and living with chronic pain.

This reality is now well documented, but in the early days of the current century the specifics of military and veteran health were not as well understood. A great deal of research has gone into developing this understanding, and new work is continually being done to find treatments best suited to this population.

The Canadian Institute for Military and Veterans Health Research (CIMVHR), a research institute co-founded by Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) and based at Queen’s, has been at the forefront of this field in recent years. Founded in 2010 with the motto “serving those who serve us,” CIMVHR recently celebrated its thirteenth anniversary, which gave it an opportunity to reflect on how far it has come and where it plans to go next.

“When CIMVHR was founded, there was still so much we didn’t know about the mental and physical effects of military service,” says David Pedlar, Scientific Director, CIMVHR, who has been in the role since 2017 after working for Veterans Affairs Canada. “Since CIMVHR began, its work has contributed to an increased understanding of a wide variety of conditions experienced by military personnel and veterans, everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to injuries caused by carrying heavy equipment. While we’ve come a long way, there’s still a great deal that needs to be done to ensure we’re adequately protecting the health and wellbeing of those who sacrifice so much for the rest of society. With our infrastructure of research support and knowledge mobilization, we’re well placed to continue being at the forefront of conversations regarding military and veteran health, not just in Canada but around the world.”

Origins of CIMVHR

CIMVHR was founded to help facilitate research into military and veteran health during the conflict in Afghanistan, which led to the largest deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces since the Korean War. And this military action came on the heels of several others in the 1990s, including those in Rwanda, Somalia, and Kosovo. With so many Canadians affected by deployments, there was a growing awareness among health professionals and government that more research capacity was needed to answer the questions about how to care for the physical and mental health of serving military personnel, veterans, and their families.

To help found the new institute, Queen’s joined with Veterans Affairs Canada, the Canadian Armed Forces, and RMC. Kingston was agreed upon as an ideal location for it, as it is home to a U15 research university in Queen’s, a Canadian Armed Forces base, and RMC, where many future military leaders are trained.

Within its first five years, CIMVHR evolved into a national network, and today they are affiliated with 46 universities and approximately 1,600 researchers across Canada. They facilitate projects by connecting researchers with funding agencies, which come to CIMVHR with requests for proposals on a specific topic. CIMVHR then finds the researchers and institutions in its network best suited to undertake work in that area and collects proposals. Originally, the institute worked primarily with government funding agencies. Over time it has expanded to work with non-governmental organizations as well, including The Royal Canadian Legion, The War Amps, and True Patriot Love, to name a few.

Getting the word out

Once new knowledge is created from these projects, it needs to reach people. CIMVHR steps in here as well. With knowledge mobilization as part of its mandate, it operates The Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health (JMVFH), a peer-reviewed academic journal dedicated to the field. It publishes five issues a year, some of them dedicated to single topics of particular interest, such as gender and sexual misconduct, chronic pain, families, technologies, and moral injury, which is damage done to an individual’s conscience or sense of values. A new special issue explores the potential for psychedelics to be used in treating veterans and military personnel experiencing mental health challenges.

“We aim to be at the forefront of important national discussions, offering evidence-based analysis of emerging and prominent topics in the field,” says Dr. Pedlar. “We have published more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, which have been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times and read in more than 190 countries around the world. We have established the journal as the preeminent academic outlet on all questions related to military and veteran health.”

CIMVHR also works to distill research findings into formats that are easily digestible by non-experts, such as infographics and white papers. These materials are frequently used to help policy makers understand the significance of certain studies and use them to make informed decisions about matters related to military and veteran health.

Global reach

The fact that JMVFH reaches readers from more than 190 countries speaks to the global significance of CIMVHR’s work, but that is just part of their international reach. With a growing number of collaborators outside Canada, CIMVHR is becoming increasingly important around the world.

This global reach is on display each year when CIMVHR hosts its annual Forum, the only annual conference in the world dedicated to military and veteran health. Attendees come from many different countries to present their work and make connections with researchers and organizations.


Members of CIMVHR meeting with representatives from the Canadian Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Canada at CIMVHR's Forum 2023. From left: Major-General Marc Bilodeau, former Surgeon General of the Canadian Armed Forces; David Pedlar, Scientific Director, CIMVHR; Stéphanie Bélanger, Associate Scientific Director, CIMVHR; Paul Ledwell, Deputy Minister, Veterans Affairs Canada.

Covering the coastline

A central characteristic of CIMVHR is the wide variety of projects it is involved in. As its leaders, staff, and network of researchers think about its future, it is committed to staying open to new evidence-based approaches and ideas.

The special journal issue on psychedelics highlights that openness, but there are many other examples as well. One current project uses children’s literature to help military personnel and their families. A research team has developed a book for young children that directly addresses the experiences of those who grow up with a parent in the armed forces. The team is distributing copies of the book to bases and helping families find ways to use it to foster open conversations.

“I like to say that some research institutes set up on a particular section of the shore while CIMVHR covers the whole coastline,” says Dr. Pedlar. “Military and veteran health is a subject that touches on so many fields, that’s why as we move forward we’re addressing topics as diverse as children’s literature, the impact of climate change on military personnel, and battlefield medicine. Because we cover such a wide range of concerns, our doors are always open to anyone at Queen’s or beyond who is interested in collaborating or trying to find ways to contribute to the field.”

Learn more on the CIMVHR website.

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