Three UCLA/VA researchers to be honored by Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Caucasian male veteran squeezes camouflage uniform hat during counseling session. Close up is of the man holding the hat.
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Three UCLA researchers affiliated with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System are among six who will be honored by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to publicly recognize the work its researchers do year-round to advance medical care provided to Veterans.

In observance of National VA Research Week 2023, the Honorable Denis R. McDonough, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs will recognize the below UCLA/VA investigators for their significant contributions to discovering medical breakthroughs and supporting healthy outcomes for America’s Veterans.

Watch the livestream here on May 9 at 10: 00 AM PDT/1:00 p.m. EDT. 

Dr. Donna Washington
Dr. Donna Washington

Dr. Donna Washington, Director, Health Equity Quality Enhancement Research Initiative, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

Dr. Donna Washington is the director of the Health Equity-Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) at VHA’s national partnered evaluation center. Dr. Washington is also a staff physician at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System and a professor in residence at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine, Department of Medicine (Division of GIM/HSR).

Dr. Washington has devoted her career to addressing the health care needs of marginalized and underserved populations, and leading groundbreaking research that has identified and continues to break down barriers to healthcare access.

She has advanced research methods to study racial and ethnic minority veteran groups; reduced gaps in knowledge about multi-level factors driving racial and ethnic disparities in Veterans’ experience; and ultimately improved care and reduced the mortality for all racial and ethnic minority Veteran groups, including those omitted from most research studies due to their small population, such as Native Americans, Asians, and Pacific Islanders.

Dr. Washington’s studies have demonstrated how social determinants of health among racial and ethnic minority groups in the VA can undermine even our best models of care. More specifically, her research provided early warning signals to VA leadership in 2019 about the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic could have on minority Veteran groups.

Additionally, her work as the principal investigator on the national survey of women veterans – the first population-based study of women veterans in 25 years – identified previously insurmountable barriers to their awareness and use of VA services. This in turn led to the launch of a national call center dedicated to reaching Women Veterans, which not only went on to create improvements in the military’s transitional assistance program, but also spurred other advances to help ensure women have access to the healthcare benefits that they have earned through their military service.

Dr. Washington also informed national, evidence-based policy for the delivery of comprehensive care for Women Veterans through foundational research studies and partnered evaluations. By linking survey data, organizational data, and outcome data, she was able to develop delivery models that improved both patients’ experiences and their health outcomes, particularly in mental health care.

In summary, Dr. Donna Washington is the personification of the VA’s commitment to deliver quality health care to all veterans, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity or economic background.


Dr. Elizabeth Yano, Director, VA Women’s Health Research Network
VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

Dr. Elizabeth Yano
Dr. Elizabeth Yano

Dr. Elizabeth Yano is the director of the VA Women’s Health Research Network. Dr. Yano is also a senior-research career scientist with Health Services Research and Development (HSR&D); adjunct professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health; adjunct professor in the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine Department of Medicine (Division of GIM/HSR), and the director of the VA HSR&D Center for the Study of Healthcare Innovation, Implementation and Policy at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Dr. Yano is one of the foremost experts on Women’s Health research in the VA and has been a pioneer in using evidence-based care to transform the VA into a responsive research community. Her efforts to better focus on Veteran priorities have delivered superior quality of care, improved patient experiences, and led to better health outcomes.

As the principal investigator and co-founder of the Women’s Health Research Network – which was created in 2010 to promote research that focuses on the unique needs of Women Veterans – Dr. Yano has dramatically increased the VA’s research capacity toward Women’s Health across 76 VA facilities.

She also developed the first-ever VA Women’s Health Research Agenda, which created a roadmap for research action that brought in a national community of researchers.

Dr. Yano’s awards include HSR&D’s Senior Research Career Scientist award in 2007, the Breslow Lifetime Achievement award in 2017, and the Disabled American Veterans Special Recognition Award in 2018 for her research impacts on Women Veterans’ care. She has published more than 280 peer-reviewed, scientific papers; delivered hundreds of scientific talks and briefings; and been continuously funded as a principal investigator for more than 30 years.

Dr. Yano has removed organizational barriers and facilitated comprehensive care delivery for tens of thousands of women; identified underlying factors that affect the delivery and quality of care; and evaluated alternate models for delivering and improving that care. It cannot be overstated how much of an impact Dr. Yano has had on the care of our Women Veterans.


Dr. Nicholas Nickols, Chief of Service, Radiation Oncology, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System

Dr. Nicholas Nickols
Dr. Nicholas Nickols

Dr. Nicholas Nickols is the chief of service for radiation oncology at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. Dr. Nickols is also the associate professor in residence and vice chair, VA services, for the Department of Radiation Oncology at UCLA, and a member of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Dr. Nickols leadership of not just oncology research, but also of educational and clinical oncology, has put him at the forefront of VA support for President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot and its goal of cutting the death rate from cancer by 50% over the next 25 years.

Dr. Nickols and his team developed the first positron emission tomography imaging program within the Veterans Health Administration and demonstrated its value at a molecular level in the planning of radiation therapy for prostate cancer.

In addition to his research into using several modes of tumor-directed therapy to treat prostate cancer, Dr. Nickols also helped build a collection of subject matter experts and mentors from across the oncology field to form GLA’s Prostate Cancer Clinical Research Team.

In fact, Dr. Nickols serves on no less than 20 committees, boards and task groups, acting as a hub of collaboration from the local level to the federal and ranging in influence from academic institutions to nationwide organizations. While Dr. Nickols’ main focus is on prostate cancer, he also assists with under-represented groups in the VA, genomic databases, the creation of actively managed portfolios within the Office of Research and Development, and more.

Despite still being in the first decade of his VA career, Dr. Nickols has already made his presence felt across the spectrum of this nation’s living healthcare system, and all signs point that the significant impacts he has made in oncology so far are just the first few of many more to come.