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Health Services Research & Development

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2023 HSR&D/QUERI National Conference Abstract

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5005 — Veteran-to-Veteran Outreach and Group Support for Rural Veterans with Chronic Pain

Lead/Presenter: John Evans
All Authors: Frank JW (Center of Innovation (COIN), Denver) Hale AL (Center of Innovation (COIN), Denver)

Objectives:
The objective of our project is to design and implement a virtual group program to support rural Veterans with chronic pain through Veteran-to-Veteran self-management support and mutual aid.

Methods:
We recruited four rural Veterans living with chronic pain and trained them to be group facilitators in February 2022 as a first step in building this Veteran-to-Veteran support group. We collaborated with our Veteran facilitators at all project phases. We then recruited twelve rural Veterans with chronic pain to participate in the group, which launched in April 2022. We designed the 24-week group program as two distinct phases. For the first phase (9 weeks), we used the VA Whole Health group “Taking Charge of My Life and Health” (TCMLH) as the foundational curriculum, supporting participants to clarify values and set goals related to pain self-management. The second phase (15 weeks) uses a mutual aid format to allow Veteran facilitators and participants to continue to connect and support each other.

Results:
As a member of the research team, I have collaborated on all phases of the design and implementation of the project. I led outreach and recruitment of both the four Veteran facilitators and the twelve participants for the group. I co-led the training of the four Veteran facilitators and provided one-on-one coaching for Veteran facilitators. I led our team’s presentations to two Veteran Engagement Groups. I currently attend the weekly Veteran-to-Veteran group for back-up facilitation support and meet weekly with our research team to plan the project’s evaluation and expansion to additional sites.

Implications:
The opportunity to lead recruitment, training and group implementation as a Veteran has led to success in multiple ways. I have leveraged my previous Veteran engagement experience as a Peer Support Specialist and recruiting for other research projects. I was able to identify solid Veteran facilitators, and they have taken ownership of this group in a remarkable way. Being a Veteran and working on a research team dedicated to Veteran engagement allowed me to recruit individuals who could share the vision and thrive across the different aspects of the project.

Impacts:
Social isolation is a challenge for many Veterans with chronic pain, and this project is important in that it is bringing Veterans together to support one another, providing a sense of purpose for the facilitators, and a sense of community for all. We aim to capture the beneficial ripple effects of this program with detailed surveys and qualitative interviews. We are currently awaiting a funding decision from the Office of Rural Health to expand this project to three VA locations in FY23.