Advances in Peer Support for Veterans
Clayton Velicer, MPH
In honor of Veterans Day, we would like to draw your attention to some of the recent advances in peer support for veterans. In April, our blog highlighted the buddy-to-buddy program at the University of Michigan that uses military culture to change the culture of treatment avoidance as part of mental health care. More recently, we highlighted the national implementation of peer support programs for veterans including increased funding for veteran peer support services in New York and Texas, as well as an article assessing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) initiative to expand its workforce of peer specialists. At that time, the program had made substantial progress in reaching the mandate of hiring 800 peer support specialists for 2012. Last week, the Department of Defense announced that this goal had been reached. The VA’s Undersecretary for Health, Dr. Robert Preztal, stated:
“We are proud to have exceeded the hiring goal established by the president in his executive order… We are well on the way to have all of these new hires trained by the end of the calendar year.”
Every VA medical center throughout the country and all community-based outpatient clinics with more than 10,000 enrollees now have peer support specialists and apprentices on staff. Building on this great news, we are sharing 3 news briefs for peer support for veterans and active military:
1) The Valor Act 2 will offer a variety of benefits to veterans, and currently has two different versions being worked on in the House and Senate. When discussing the proposed bill, Massachusetts state senator, Bruce Tar, stated, “When presented in the emergency room, we want to connect peer counselors and peer support with people who end up in a facility with a threat of suicide… We need to try to look out for information to help them and let them know the services are there before that eleventh hour.”
2) The USA Today published an article this week discussing the affect of unfair stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental health on the hiring of returning veterans. The article highlights VA Medical Center’s Compensated Work Therapy program that employs peer support specialists to help other veterans recover from mental illness. Tony Zipple, president and chief executive of Seven Counties Services in Louisville states: “A very, very large cross-section of the general population has some combination of these same conditions [mental health conditions including depression and PTSD] as well. If you said we’re not going to hire anybody that has an issue with depression and takes an antidepressant, you’d have big chunks of the population that would never work again.” The article promotes better understanding of mental health conditions and providing better resources for returning veterans.
3) The Huffington Post also featured a blog for Veterans Day by James Knickman, president of the New York State Health Foundation that described 4 keys factors to ensure that every community serves its veterans well. These 4 factors are:
1. Energy and action by a range of community stakeholders including health care providers, academic institutions, social service agencies, community-based organizations, businesses, philanthropic organizations and government.
2. Local leadership: This includes a broad network of people, but Knickman provides the example of a community-based organization like Veterans Outreach centers as being capable of serving as a resource hub for returning veterans.
3. Local funders: Knickman highlights how in his state, the Robin Hood Foundation, local businesses and individual funders came together to build community capacity to meet the needs of returning veterans and their families.
4. Sustained leadership from elected officials: Knickman points out that support from government is critical even in the presence of local funders and community support because the VA runs so many critical programs. He also calls on elected officials to push the VA to recognize the larger roles that can be played by non-VA community-based providers to work together.
These 3 news briefs represent just a small weekly sampling of the ongoing discussion of providing support for veterans and active military members. We believe peer support can continue to play a critical role in providing support for the unique needs of veterans and military members and encourage our readers to continue to share news stories, resources and general thoughts on this critical topic.