Open Access Research article

Challenges to be overcome using population-based sampling methods to recruit veterans for a study of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury

Peter J Bayley12*, Jennifer Y Kong1, Drew A Helmer3, Aaron Schneiderman4, Lauren A Roselli5, Stephanie M Rosse5, Jordan A Jackson5, Janet Baldwin1, Linda Isaac12, Michael Nolasco1, Marc R Blackman678, Matthew J Reinhard59, John Wesson Ashford12, Julie C Chapman105 and The MIND Study Group

Author Affiliations

1 War Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC), Veteran Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, 3801 Miranda Avenue (151Y), Palo Alto, CA 94304-1290, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA, USA

3 WRIISC, Veteran Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ; University of Medicine & Dentistry, Rutgers University, New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ, USA

4 Department of Veterans Affairs, Epidemiology Program, Office of Public Health, Washington, DC, USA

5 WRIISC, Veteran Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA

6 Research Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA

7 Departments of Medicine and Rehabilitation Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA

8 Departments of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA

9 Department of Psychiatry, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA

10 Department of Neurology, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC, USA

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BMC Medical Research Methodology 2014, 14:48  doi:10.1186/1471-2288-14-48

Published: 8 April 2014



Many investigators are interested in recruiting veterans from recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and/or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Researchers pursuing such studies may experience problems in recruiting sufficient numbers unless effective strategies are used. Currently, there is very little information on recruitment strategies for individuals with TBI and/or PTSD. It is known that groups of patients with medical conditions may be less likely to volunteer for clinical research. This study investigated the feasibility of recruiting veterans returning from recent military conflicts— Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) - using a population-based sampling method.


Individuals were sampled from a previous epidemiological study. Three study sites focused on recruiting survey respondents (n = 445) who lived within a 60 mile radius of one of the sites.


Overall, the successful recruitment of veterans using a population-based sampling method was dependent on the ability to contact potential participants following mass mailing. Study enrollment of participants with probable TBI and/or PTSD had a recruitment yield (enrolled/total identified) of 5.4%. We were able to contact 146 individuals, representing a contact rate of 33%. Sixty-six of the individuals contacted were screened. The major reasons for not screening included a stated lack of interest in the study (n = 37), a failure to answer screening calls after initial contact (n = 30), and an unwillingness or inability to travel to a study site (n = 10). Based on the phone screening, 36 veterans were eligible for the study. Twenty-four veterans were enrolled, (recruitment yield = 5.4%) and twelve were not enrolled for a variety of reasons.


Our experience with a population-based sampling method for recruitment of recent combat veterans illustrates the challenges encountered, particularly contacting and screening potential participants. The screening and enrollment data will help guide recruitment for future studies using population-based methods.

MIND study; PTSD; Recruitment methods; Recruitment yields; TBI; Veteran