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The Roles of Peer Specialists

Peer Specialists attend “rounds” for the various programs in which they participate.

A Peer Specialist in CWT/TR (Compensated Work Therapy Transitional Residence) attends rounds at Brownell House, participating in discussions of the day’s issues, as well as administrative matters, with veteran residents at the house.  The goal of these meetings is to maintain a community at the residence and to maintain clear communication among the staff and residents.

A Peer Specialist attends CRP (Community Reintegration Program) rounds every day to discuss his/her workload for the day.  At these meetings, a multi-disciplinary team discusses the various activities that will be undertaken to support individual veterans participating in the CRP program. The Peer Specialist's experience and close contact with the veterans is a valuable source of information and guidance for his/her colleagues in the CRP group. 

A Peer Specialist works in CWT/SE (Compensated Work Therapy/Supported Employment).  S/he attends vocational program rounds every morning to listen to cases and to obtain information on the status of the team’s clients.  If some clients are having difficulty, the team shares experiences, problem solves, and discusses how to address individual needs. At all rounds, Peer Specialists share plans for the day. 

A Peer Specialist is a member of the MHICM (Mental Health Intensive Case Management) Team, attends MHICM morning rounds.  Since the MHICM team is in the field most of the time, the first part of the day is a scheduling meeting that describes where everyone will be during the day.  There are also treatment meetings conducted with an inter-disciplinary group of physicians, nurses, Social Workers, Job Specialists, Housing Specialists, and Peer Specialists, to discuss individual cases and activities. Peer Specialists play an important role in these discussions because of their frequent contact with veterans and their intimate knowledge of individual needs and aspirations.  

Peer Specialists participate in developing the plans, goals, and treatments for veterans. 

Each veteran develops a “life recovery” plan with his or her treatment team. Peer Specialists meet with veterans and assist them in identifying their personal goals and plans.  Peer Specialist help veterans answer the questions “What are your goals and why are you here?” The objective is not to be a “patient,” but to move on to rehabilitative services, where goals include getting back with family members, having a permanent residence, having a bank account, getting a job, and dealing with everyday life experiences and responsibilities.

Goals can be short or long term.  Peer Specialists sit down with his veterans and work on a recovery plan for the week.  S/he asks them to write down their goals and plans.  Sometimes some veterans resist setting goals, “they return the piece of paper and it is blank.  I continue to talk with them and pull the information out of them by helping them understand what is behind their inability to make a plan.  Once you get them to write they often have great ideas.”

Peer Specialists Provide a Unique Type of Support for Veterans

One of the reasons Peer Specialists can be especially supportive is that they do not play a disciplinary role.  “If a veteran has had a tough day or weekend, as a peer I will take the initiative and be a friend.”  Peer Specialists help individuals with daily activities such as shopping, medical appointments, or going to the Food Pantry.  Peer Specialist will accompany groups to activities such as museum visits, movies, and other activities the veterans can choose to do as a group.

Veterans occasionally need support when they require social services, become involved in legal matters requiring their presence in court and when looking for housing.  Peer Specialists often have had experience applying for such services or dealing with the legal system, and have direct and relevant experiences that can be applied in these situations.

Peer Specialists work alongside of and in support of clinicians.

Peer Specialists work as members of the MHICM (intensive case management) team. They also work alongside clinicians, interacting with as many as 30 different veterans. Assignments start when a MHICM clinician approaches a Peer Specialist and him or her to work with a veteran. This could involve observing veterans filling their medication trays, or with activities of daily living, such as banking, shopping, haircuts, buying clothing, or preparing for job interviews.  Like a ‘coach’ in a sense. After a Peer Specialist finds out what a clinician recommends, s/he goes out, meets with the client and tries to keep the life recovery plan of the veteran at the forefront. 

Peer Specialists Help Veterans Find Jobs

At any given time a Peer Specialits could be working with about nine veterans who are looking for employment. S/he spends about ninety percent of her time out in the community, including significant time at Connecticut Works (The State Department of Labor). 

A large part of this job includes helping veterans make their way through the employment process. S/he helps veterans prepare “generic” applications for employment. The veterans can then utilize them when they go out on a job interview.  This enables them to have key information and dates handy.  S/he also works with veterans on their resume drafts and updates. 

The Peer Specialist helps veterans search for job opportunities, by exploring the Internet, meeting with potential employers to determine needs, and helping people find jobs that are consistent with their skills, desires, and specific physical limitations.  These may not be “published jobs” and s/he will often have to go to an employer to help create a position for a specific person.


Peer Specialists Play an Important Role in Initial Assessments to CRP.

A peer Specialist carries the CRP (Community Reintegration Program – crisis day program) referral pager.  S/he is the person who acts as the initial contact for all referrals from the Psychiatric Service Emergency Room, 8 West Inpatient Unit, Mental Hygiene Clinic, and the SADP (Substance Abuse Day Program).  The Peer Specialist receives the page, returns the call, requests identifying information and the reason for referral, and completes a referral form.  S/he prepares a referral form, and brings the information to wrap up or rounds that day.  The veteran referrals are all presented at CRP daily rounds and the Peer Specialist makes sure the veterans are seen by CRP the very same day as the referral.   


In Transitional Supported Housing, Peer Specialists Take on a Key Role in Quality Management for The House. 

For example, a Peer Specialist is responsible for the Environment Care Manual.  This manual provides information on: hazards, fire safety, cleanliness, chemical inventory, maintenance, Material Safety Data Sheets, record tracking, and fire safety drills. Additionally, room checks are made to ensure that medications are properly stored.

Peer Specialists are Role Models

Veterans can look at Peer Specialists as peers who have overcome many of the obstacles and issues that veterans face.  Most of the Peers have been homeless. Some have experienced problems with substance abuse, some have mental illnesses and others physical disabilities. Yet these people have overcome their difficulties, and have learned to manage their recovery while being productive employees of the VA who help others every day and are respected at work and in their own communities.  Because they are role models, they can offer options and opportunities, as well as provide cues that others can choose to integrate into their lives. 

Life Experience 

The most important training that Peer Specialists bring to the job is life experience.  As a veteran, a peer connects in a way that cannot be duplicated.  As someone who has been homeless, a peer has understanding and empathy that enables close and trusting relationships. As someone who has personally dealt with the health care, social, legal, and other systems of government, a peer “knows the ropes” and can assist veterans based on practical knowledge of and lived experiences with these institutions and their systems.  In addition, Peer Specialists, who have experienced physical and mental challenges, or substance abuse problems, and altered their lifestyles in a positive way, bring their struggles and accomplishments to the table.  With this background, a Peer Specialist offers hope and serves as a role model in a way few others can.