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2015 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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3036 — Implementation evaluation of the peer-based BuddytoBuddy program

Walters H, COIN-Ann Arbor; Forman J, COIN-Ann Arbor; Sripada R, COIN-Ann Arbor; Levine D, COIN-Ann Arbor; Pfeiffer P, COIN-Ann Arbor; Bohnert K, COIN-Ann Arbor; Valenstein M, COIN-Ann Arbor;

Objectives:
Veterans of the OEI/OIF conflicts have high levels of mental health symptoms, with National Guard and Reserve Soldiers reporting the highest rates of symptoms. Proactive peer outreach may successfully identify emerging problems, address stigma, and facilitate appropriate connections to resources and treatment. We used qualitative methods to evaluate the implementation of the BuddytoBuddy (B2B) program, a peer support program, within the Michigan Army National Guard.

Methods:
Semi-structured interviews were completed with 78 Soldiers and 5 B2B Volunteer Veterans peers from 3 units with substantial and 3 units with lower levels of B2B implementation. Three interviews were conducted with NG senior leadership and 7 with B2B staff. Investigators analyzed the transcripts using a team-based rapid assessment process, resulting in individual level summaries and comprehensive unit level summaries.

Results:
Findings suggest that unit level leadership plays an important role in acceptability and uptake of the B2B program. Positive evaluations of unit leadership and perceptions regarding leadership support for seeking assistance were vital. Deployment experience was also related to acceptance of the program; specifically, Soldiers reporting more difficult deployments saw more need for the program. Although there were few concerns regarding stigma from leaders when using the B2B program , there were concerns regarding views of fellow Soldiers. However, a consistent theme was "if he can do it, I can do it" suggesting when respected soldiers or leaders used the program, acceptability increased. The stability and visibility of the community Volunteer Veteran peer was a key factor in successful implementation, including regular attendance at drill weekends and regular opportunities for the Volunteer Veteran to address the units.

Implications:
Awareness and participation in B2B was moderate to high in half or more of the units studied. Positive evaluations of leadership, higher levels of leadership support, and regular B2 attendance at drill weekends was key for uptake. There was a high degree of commitment to continuation of the program.

Impacts:
Veteran peer programs can be successfully implemented in Guard and Reserve units with leadership support and proactive, reliable community Volunteer Veterans