Charles George VA Medical Center - Asheville, NC
Six Veterans, who serve as peer support specialists at the Charles George VA Medical Center’s (CGVAMCs) Mental Health Center, graduated December 11 from an intense week-long course called Veteran “X.”
Laura Tugman, the assistant chief of Mental Health Services at CGVAMC, said there are several reasons why the facility was chosen to be the first VA medical center to have all of its peer support specialists trained as Veteran X facilitators.
“We have had such a strong, positive response from the Veterans and the facility’s leadership when the first Veteran ‘X’ group was started by Michael Dumaine that the Hampton team believed that our facility would benefit from having additional facilitators,” Tugman said.
The innovative program creates a fictitious character named Veteran “X” to depict scenarios Veterans may face, such as mental illness, homelessness and family issues. As a group, led by a qualified peer support specialist, the Veterans navigate social obstacles in a supportive and collaborative environment with their peers. In addition to the group setting, Veterans work one-on-one with case managers who provide them with resources and direction to find solutions to their own personal problems.
Robert Colling, one of the CGVAMC peer support specialists who were recently certified as a Veteran X facilitator, believes that the program empowers Veterans on their road to recovery.
“The program puts the control back into the Veterans’ hands. The participating Veterans grow in knowledge and comradery as they help each other and help themselves through their own social barriers. As we see these groups be successful, we will see the Veterans we serve grow and flourish,” Colling said.
Tugman agrees. “One of the primary benefits of the program is that it encourages Veterans to develop the skills to advocate for themselves and have a voice in their care. By thinking through solutions to these issues in a non-threatening format, Veterans are empowered to find solutions to their own real-life social issues,” Tugman said.
Tugman said that having more peer support specialists certified in the Veteran X program will allow the program to expand and focus on the needs of women Veterans.
“With all of the Peer Support Specialists now trained as Veteran X facilitators, we will be increasing the number of Veteran X groups being offered. We will be offering a group for female Veterans only called, Veteran Hope, which will focus on the issues women face in their lives.”
Veteran “X” was developed by Thomas E. Pratt, a peer support specialist at the Hampton VA Medical Center, Hampton, Va. Pratt was a 16-year Navy Veteran who left the service in 2004 to start his own business, but ended up broke and alone by 2006. Pratt worked his way back with the help of the VA and became a peer support specialist. In November 2009, he developed the Veteran “X” program. Veteran “X” has enrolled more than 1,400 participants since that time and has received two VA Innovation awards.