Peer visitation (PV) provides individuals with injury an opportunity to interact with and learn from successful role models. PV has been found to be an effective means of improving long-term adjustment in people with Spinal Cord Injury (SCI). It has also been associated with increased occupational activity and life satisfaction in this population. PV has yet to be systematically developed in the SCI/D system of care. The United Spinal Association has a PV program that is becoming more prominently available in non-VA facilities throughout the country.
The goal of this proposal was to improve on existing peer visitation programs for individuals with SCI by adapting written materials, policies, and procedures from established programs, and modifying them for use in the VA system of care. The first objective of the project was to develop a peer visitation manual to train veterans with SCI and their caregivers to be peer visitors. The second objective was to develop a train the trainer manual for allied health professionals who will be certified PV trainers. The final objective was to explore the feasibility of providing training, materials, and referrals to veterans across VISN 20 (AK, ID, OR, WA) so peer visitation can occur in rural communities.
Two core investigators obtained and reviewed PV program materials from multiple existing national PV programs. Next, the core investigators individually interviewed an Advisory Panel consisting of Rehabilitation Psychologists, veterans with SCI and their caregivers, and physicians. One investigator also participated in Hub and Spoke teleconferences to discuss feasibility of implementation in rural areas.
In collaboration with United Spinal, three manuals have been developed for use with veterans in our SCI program: a Peer Mentor Training Manual, a Peer Mentor's Handbook, and a Peer Self-Management Planner. Input from the expert panel participants guided the selection and modification of the United Spinal materials. Feedback from a geographically diverse group of veterans supported the feasibility of supporting a PV program throughout the VISN.
Implementation of this PV program will result in improved peer support for our Veterans with SCI, allowing for potential improvements in adjustment to injury and quality of life. This completes the first stage of the project; the next stage will involve implementation, and evaluation, of this SCI PV program.
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