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HSR&D 2004 National Meeting Abstracts

2060. Implementing a Peer Program for Homeless Mentally Ill Veterans
Ellen M Weissman, MD, MPH, MIRECC, Bronx VAMC, NH Covell, Bronx VAMC and Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, M Kushner, Mental Health Care Line, Veterans Integrated Service Network 3, JE Irwin, VA New York Harbor Healthcare System, SM Essock, MIRECC, Bronx VAMC

Objectives: A growing literature and the Presidentís New Freedom Report on Mental Health confirm the value of peer support in treating individuals with severe mental illness (SMI). Approximately half the 61,123 veterans treated in FY02 Health Care for Homeless Veterans programs have SMI, hence we wanted to examine feasibility and impact of introducing peer case managers (PCMs) to work with homeless SMI veterans to enhance transition to stable housing. Objectives- 1. design and implement a program employing PCMs to work with homeless SMI veterans; 2. study program implementation, both barriers and facilitators; 3. explore pilot data on service mix PCMs provide and collect preliminary data on veterans served by the program.

Methods: PCMs were formerly homeless SMI veterans. PCMs met with participants individually, in groups and by telephone, keeping service logs detailing type and duration of contacts. PCMs received regular training and supervision. We analyzed service logs and participantsí demographics, symptoms, socialization and quality of life at baseline and 4-month follow-up.

Results: Previously homeless SMI veterans completed training and worked successfully as PCMs. Practice style varied across peers. Service participants (N=32) were male, 75% African-American, mean age 48 years. Early results suggest peer intervention positively impacts employment and housing.

Conclusions: Peer-enhanced case management is a feasible intervention for homeless mentally ill veterans.

Impact: Larger studies of peer case management programs elucidating critical program components and measuring outcomes for peers and participants are needed. The unique contributions that peers can make in engaging homeless veterans with SMI should not be overlooked.