SUNY Downstate Researchers Uncover a Genetic Link Between Behavioral Disorders and Poor Health Outcomes Among Veterans

Nov 8, 2023

New Study Published in JAMA Psychiatry Will Aid in Implementing Early Interventions and Lifestyle Modifications to Improve Veterans’ Health 

BROOKLYN, NY – SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University announced that new research from the Department of Psychiatry has been published in JAMA Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed medical journal of the American Medical Association. The study, Correlates of Risk for Disinhibited Behaviors in the Million Veteran Program Cohort, examines the correlation between genetic risk for psychiatric conditions and critical health outcomes among veterans.

This research, spearheaded by Peter B. Barr, Ph.D., Social Determinants of Health Lead at the Institute for Genomics in Health and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Tim B. Bigdeli, Ph.D., Co-Director of the Institute for Genomics in Health; Jacquelyn L. Meyers, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Brain Sciences Lead for the Institute of Genomic Health, and Co-Director of the Henri Begleiter Neurodynamics Lab; and Roseann E. Peterson, Ph.D., Director of Training in Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity for the Institute for Genomics in Health and Associate Professor of Psychiatry is critical to understanding common behavioral and medical conditions impacting veterans’ health.

Psychiatric conditions like ADHD, substance use disorders, and antisocial personality disorder, broadly referred to as externalizing disorders, have been found to overlap with several health outcomes expected among veteran populations, including suicide, substance use disorders, and multiple chronic medical conditions. To better understand this overlap, Downstate researchers measured genetic risk for externalizing disorders among 500,000 veterans in the Million Veteran Program – a national research program examining how genes, lifestyle, military experiences, and exposures affect health and wellness in Veterans.

“Preventing and treating serious health concerns among at-risk populations requires a thorough understanding of all factors contributing to these conditions. Our analysis within the Million Veteran Program Cohort explored the link between genetic risk for externalizing disorders and critically important health conditions impacting veteran populations,” said Dr. Barr. “These findings provide a broader understanding of persons at increased risk for an array of medical conditions and have the potential to help inform early intervention methods to improve the overall health of veterans in the United States. We’re proud to be a part of this important discovery and look forward to exploring it further in veterans’ health.”

Genetic risk factors for externalizing behaviors were found to be linked to several significant public health outcomes, including psychiatric conditions and chronic medical ailments that are often exacerbated by substance misuse, such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and intravenous drug use. These findings, combined with social determinants of health and other clinical risk factors, can identify individuals at heightened risk for various medical conditions, allowing for crucial early interventions and lifestyle modifications to improve health.

The complete study, published by JAMA Psychiatry, can be accessed here.


Contact: Dawn S. Walker
347.533.2071 (Cell)

About SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University

SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University is the borough’s only academic medical center for health education, research, and patient care. It is a 342-bed facility serving the healthcare needs of New York City and Brooklyn’s 2.6 million residents. University Hospital at Downstate (UHD) is Downstate’s teaching hospital; it is backed by an outstanding medical school’s expertise and world-class academic medical center research facilities. Over 800 physicians, representing 53 specialties and subspecialties—many of them ranked as tops in their fields—comprise Downstate’s staff.

In addition to high-risk neonatal and infant services, pediatric nephrology, and dialysis (kidney diseases)—and offering the only kidney transplantation program in Brooklyn, among many other distinctive programs. Downstate comprises a College of Medicine, a College of Nursing, a School of Health Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a School of Public Health, and a multifaceted biotechnology initiative, including the Downstate Biotechnology Incubator and BioBAT for early-stage and more mature companies, respectively. For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter at @sunydownstate.