“You mean it gets better?” a female veteran asks Olga, a certified peer specialist working at the Department of Veterans Affairs. For the last decade, Olga has served as an integral part of the VA’s peer specialist program in Dallas. After going through the dizzying process herself as an Army veteran, she wondered how other veterans experiencing severe mental health episodes were managing to get the care they needed.
Now, Olga spends her time connecting with other veterans to help steer them through the VA’s web of mental health care services. She is part of a workforce of more than 1,100 peer specialists who help veterans in department facilities across the country, including 25 VA primary care sites. This program provides veterans with a trusted guide to navigate the system: a fellow veteran who has gone through the same journey to wellness. Peer specialists supplement traditional care practices, such as counseling or group therapy, and work in patient-aligned care teams to meet the needs of each veteran.