DBSA is advocating to broaden the use of peer support specialists at U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) medical centers in patient-aligned care teams. DBSA lent its expertise to supporting language that resulted in the Veteran Partners Efforts to Enhance Reintegration Act (the Veteran PEER Act) which passed as part of the MISSION Act and will help further integrate behavioral health into the primary care setting through the use of peer support specialists. Veterans will be able to access this evidenced-based model of care at 50 locations across the country regardless of how or where they enter the VA health system.

This legislation will ensure that Veterans who seek care at a VA medical/primary care center can connect seamlessly with a mental health or substance use provider through the engagement of a peer specialist. It will improve and expand upon existing Veteran treatment and services and harnesses peer-to-peer relationships to more comprehensively treat Veterans’ mental health conditions. A Veteran’s unique relationship with a peer can help provide powerful and unparalleled emotional support. Bolstering this kind of relationship among Veterans is an effective way to increase access to vital medical and mental health care. The law will improve the link between primary and behavioral health care providers and increase Veterans’ engagement in their own care. Peer support improves symptom management and reduces reliance on higher-cost clinical services while still achieving positive recovery outcomes.

Until recently, VA peer specialists primarily were located in behavioral health settings. Given the stigma Veterans face seeking care for mental health and substance use conditions, those using the VA for primary care have been missing the effective VA peer support model of care. Integrating mental health counseling to the VA’s primary care teams provides an additional entry point to engage Veterans living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other mental health conditions. Veterans will have greater access to services that support the modeling of positive health-affirming engagement with VA treatment teams for both their mental and physical health. DBSA has provided assistance in developing the training curriculum and has trained over 600 peer counselors to date.