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2015 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

3018 — Integrating Peer Providers into the System of PTSD Care

Hundt NE, Houston COIN; Robinson A, Michael E DeBakey VAMC; Arney J, University of Houston Clear Lake; Stanley MA, Houston COIN; Cully JA, Houston COIN;

Peer support, a model of care in which patients "in recovery" from an illness provide emotional, instrumental, and informational support to patients with the same disorder, has been increasingly utilized within the VA. Peers are likely to be particularly helpful for Veterans with PTSD due to the strong bonds among military service members and the importance of Veteran peers in coping with stress. Using a qualitative methodology, the current study sought to examine Veterans' perspectives on the potential benefits and drawbacks of peer support for PTSD and how peer providers could best be integrated into models of PTSD care.

We conducted in-depth interviews with 23 Veterans who received PTSD treatment at the VA. Data were transcribed, coded, and analyzed using grounded theory analysis.

Veterans expressed strong interest in peer support for PTSD, citing a variety of potential benefits consistent with prior peer support research: providing social support, normalization and hope, and purpose and meaning. Veterans believed that peer support might complement treatment at three time points: before entry into care, to increase initiation of psychotherapy; during care, to encourage adherence; and after care, to provide for maintenance of skills learned. Results also indicated that Veterans may prefer peer support groups that are separated according to trauma type, gender, and era of service. Other findings highlighted the importance of the leadership and interpersonal skills of a peer support group leader and desired program characteristics.

Overall, Veterans found peer support to be a highly acceptable complement to existing PTSD treatments with few drawbacks.

Peer providers may assist with initiation, adherence, and maintenance of PTSD treatment thereby increasing treatment utilization and effectiveness. These roles are particularly important given the reluctance of some Veterans to initiate treatment due to stigma and treatment-discouraging beliefs, attrition rates for PTSD treatments, and residual symptoms that commonly occur post-treatment.