Training Spotlight: Veterans Peer Support Specialist Training

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An estimated 773,884 military veterans live in North Carolina according to 2015 data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. This suggests that approximately 10 percent of all North Carolina adults have served in our armed forces.

Many veterans, upon returning home from serving our country, experience behavioral health challenges. “It’s hard to go from knowing exactly what to expect – and what’s expected of you – to the uncertainty of day-to-day civilian life,” explains Vaya Peer Trainer Rebekah McCloy. “Transitioning back into the workforce, back into their relationships and back into their daily routines can be difficult.”

These unique transitional challenges are often further complicated by symptoms of more serious mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, at least 210 North Carolina veterans died by suicide in 2015. And another 884 veterans experienced episodes of homelessness according to 2018 data from the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Recognizing the need to respond to these and other veterans-specific concerns in our region, Vaya Health partnered with Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry (ABCCM), NC Serves and Warrior Veterans Outreach to deliver a Veterans Peer Support Specialist training. Through activities and discussions, participants in this 40-hour training gained insight into what it is like to work with veterans in recovery while monitoring and maintaining their own wellness.

This first-of-its-kind training was held April 8-12 at Camp Jenson in Murphy, NC, and included civilian peers, as well as veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. Throughout the week, Vaya’s Julie Davis and Rebekah McCloy introduced each elementof Vaya’s standard Peer Support curriculum – such as relationship building and communication skills, peer support ethics and boundaries and trauma-informed practices – and worked with partners from ABCCM to share specific tools for engaging and supporting veterans who may be struggling or in distress.

“They learned about military culture and the brotherhood among those who have served,” said McCloy. “And they heard about how small shifts in language can make a big difference in our interactions with veterans.” She explained, “We talk a lot about goal-setting in our work as Peer Support Specialists, for example, but that language does not always resonate with veterans. The shift we make can be as simple as asking, ‘What’s your mission?’ instead of ‘What’s your goal?’, but it can make all the difference.” According to McCloy, “Developing these cultural competencies and learning to connect in a truly person-centered way is the key to establishing any trusting peer relationship, but it is especially true when working with our veterans.”

Being invited to facilitate this training held special meaning for McCloy, who is a Certified Peer Support Specialist and comes from a long line of veterans dating back to the Revolutionary War. “All Peer Support Specialist are given tools to support anyone in recovery, including our military veterans. But, there is something truly unique about the connection between a veteran and the Peer Support Specialist who can say, ‘I served, too.’ It just takes that lived experience – and its potential for positive impact – to new heights.” She adds, “These men and women already have a heart for service and now they are even more equipped to share their stories of hope and recovery with others who have served in our military.”

In addition to the Peer Support Specialist trainings already available through Vaya each month, our team of Peer Trainers hopes to add other specialty events to the calendar each year. These specialty trainings will help us further develop our western North Carolina Peer Support workforce and ensure that our members receive the authentic, person-centered support that they need and deserve.

For more information about this event or to learn more about Peer Support Specialist trainings in our region, please contact Rebekah McCloy (Rebekah.McCloy@vayahealth.com or ext. 3357) or send an email to psstraining@vayahealth.com.

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