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Peer Support Services in VA

Peer support services help Veterans who are in VA mental health treatment programs. Any Veteran can have mental health problems, substance use disorders, or related problems. Peer Specialists have had similar life challenges. They can be a great source of support to them. This is very true for Veterans with mental health problems who have also been in combat.

Peer Specialists are trained to help others with mental health problems. They are trained to help Veterans name and reach certain life and recovery goals. Many current Peer Specialists are Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and Operation New Dawn (OND) Veterans.

What services do Peer Specialists provide?

Peer Specialists serve as role models to Veterans. They share their personal recovery stories. They teach and model skills that help recovery. They help Veterans with goal setting and problem solving. And they help them manage their symptoms. They do this using a host of recovery tools. They empower Veterans. They help them identify their strengths, supports, resources, and skills. They advocate on behalf of Veterans. They do this to help stop the stigma of mental illness. They find social supports in the community that help Veterans with mental illness fit into their local community. Peer Specialists help boost the growth of local community resources. They create the vital element of hope in the Veterans they serve.

Where do peer support staff provide services?

There are over 1,000 paid Peer Specialists in our VA Medical Centers. There are also many volunteer peer support staff who provide services as well. The peer support staff provide services in many mental health programs, including:

  • Inpatient mental health programs

  • Psychosocial Rehabilitation Recovery Centers

  • Mental Health Intensive Case Management programs

  • Substance Use Disorder Treatment programs

  • Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment programs

  • Compensated Work Therapy

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder programs

  • Homeless programs

Other CBOCs may offer peer support through:

  • Tele-mental health

  • Referral to VA facilities that are nearby

  • Referral to approved community-based providers  

VHA is growing its peer support program. Peer Specialists will offer services in primary care patient aligned care teams (PACTs) and in other specialty clinics. Their goal is to increase access to help for mental health problems for Veterans who are moving from active military service and reserve duty.

What do Veterans say about peer support?

"It helps that you are a peer and understand where I'm coming from." 

"You've been a patient on the inpatient unit, like most of us, and now you're working full-time. That really inspires me."

What do mental health providers say about peer support?

"There are things a peer support provider can do that no one else on the team can. There is just no substitute for lived experience of mental illness. They have a unique ability to engage Veterans into the recovery process. And I have found the peer support provider to also have a major effect on other team members. Our peer support provider has truly helped to change our team culture. It makes our effort to support the recovery journey of Veterans more authentic. She has taught me more about recovery than anyone." 

How can Veterans get peer support services?

Veterans can ask for a referral for peer support services from their VA mental health care provider. If peer support for a certain mental health problem is not available at the VA Medical Center, a Veteran may be referred to peer support in their community.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 5/1/2019
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