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VA Pittsburgh Chief of Staff Joins National Veterans’ Research Nonprofit Board

Dr. Ali Sonel

The Board of Directors of the National Association of Veterans' Research and Education Foundations (NAVREF) in September announced the election of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS) Chief of Staff Dr. Ali Sonel to their board of directors.

The appointment complements his role as chairman of the board of directors for the Veterans Health Foundation (VHF) in Pittsburgh. VHF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation devoted to facilitating the research and education mission of VAPHS. 

NAVREF advances and advocates for the network of VA nonprofits, like VHF, in helping VA health care systems nationwide expand their research and education opportunities.

Sonel’s connection with VHF began nearly 20 years ago when he received grants for investigator-initiated trials. At the time, he was also the site investigator for multicenter international clinical trials administered through VHF. But his interest in research began much earlier.

“I was first introduced to research during my internal medicine training when I assisted on one of the international clinical trials to study new treatments for heart attack care,” Sonel said.

He said he led his first study while completing his cardiology fellowship in Indianapolis.

“It was a study on markers of heart muscle injury to better identify patients at high risk. One of the markers we studied was troponin I,” Sonel said. “Our study, among others, provided the information that resulted in troponins becoming the preferred marker for evaluating injury to the heart muscle.”

Sonel joined VAPHS in 1998 as a staff cardiologist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Between 2006 and 2010 Sonel was instrumental in the development of what is now our Clinical Trials Center. This model, he said, was adopted by many of VHF’s sister VA non-profit corporations. 

“It is a tremendous honor and a privilege to be elected to serve on the NAVREF Board of Directors,” Sonel said. “For decades, NAVREF has served a critical role advocating for VA nonprofits and providing them with tools and resources to expand their research and education capabilities.”

Sonel said he hopes his contributions to NAVREF include further improving the governance structure, evaluating existing committees and their effectiveness, and assessing the need for potential new committees to further the mission of NAVREF.

“I hope that some of my unique experiences and passion for research will help shape the strategic direction of NAVREF to assist VA nonprofits,” Sonel said.

NAVREF is also looking forward to the partnership.

“We are excited to have a health care leader of Dr. Sonel’s stature join our board,” said Board Chair Ron Hakes. “He has been a great supporter of NAVREF and our community for many years. His experience, expertise and passion for supporting veterans will be tremendous assets to the board and the 75 VA-affiliated nonprofit research and education foundations that comprise our membership.”

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