Maryland VA turning vets in Peer Support Specialists

Program tackling homelessness, drug abuse, suicide
Posted at 11:51 PM, Jun 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-26 23:52:35-04

Many veterans face the biggest fight of their lives after returning home.

At the Maryland VA, some of those vets are becoming Peer Support Specialists to help others dealing with issues like homelessness, substance abuse and mental illness.

"Having someone to talk to who's kind of navigated that gives them an idea that, 'This is a person I can trust,'" said veteran and Peer Specialist Gary Yingling.

Yingling and other other Peer Specialists say they spent years living on the streets themselves. Now they have the tools to guide others to a better life.

"You see a lot of people who have been on the streets for a long time and don't really know how to navigate the systems," he says.

Others have struggled with PTSD and depression, issues that come up over and over again at the VA Medical Center.

"Getting through to someone about that can give some relief," said Peer Specialist Jonathan Holland. "The idea of 'take it easy on yourself.' Give yourself a break. You've seen a lot of things that other people haven't and that might be why you're having the difficulty that you're having."

The Peer Support Specialists are trained after meeting three requirements: serving in the military, gaining a certification and spending at least a year managing a mental health condition.

Specialists use one-on-one conversations with struggling vets to point them in the right direction of helpful resources, set goals, solve problems and manage symptoms.

Find out more about Peer Support Specialists.