Veteran-centered recovery program uses innovative approach to mental health

Hampton VAMC's Veteran X highlighted at VA’s mental health showcase



A peer-led, Veteran-centered recovery program established in November 2009 at the Hampton VA Medical Center, is being highlighted as a best practice initiative at the VA Mental Health Showcase held in Washington, D.C., today.

The program, called “Veteran X,” presents a scenario of a fictitious Veteran who has an abundance of social issues, including mental illness, addiction, poor physical health, homelessness, economic hardships, and family issues. Using this fictional Veteran as a focus, others experiencing the same or similar issues can build upon in their own recovery by trying to solve Veteran X’s issues.

“By helping Veteran X,” said Dr. David Shaw, a Hampton VAMC clinical psychologist who serves as the program lead “They are learning to resolve their own difficulties.”

According to Shaw, the group members serve as a treatment team that empowers Veteran X to move forward in his recovery efforts. The group helps Veteran X navigate many of the challenging obstacles on the path of recovery in a supportive, collaborative environment with peers through role-play, brainstorming, information-gathering and facilitator-led group exercises.

David B. Shaw Ph.D. and Thomas E. Pratt, CPSS present the Veteran X program in Washington, D.C.

David B. Shaw Ph.D. and Thomas E. Pratt, CPSS present the Veteran X program in Washington, D.C.

The process of identifying solutions to problems teaches the group participants how they can apply lessons learned to their own lives. Veterans who are on the street often perceive their problems as insurmountable.  The Veteran X setting teaches Veterans how to tackle each scenario and then apply the solutions to their own lives.

Thomas Pratt, a once homeless Navy Veteran who founded the Veteran X program at Hampton, uses his own story of recovery as a catalyst in the lives of others by serving as a peer support specialist at the facility. Pratt modeled Veteran X on the idea that the Veterans could work together as a team to help themselves. Pratt believes that being able to showcase the impact of Veteran X to others is what has helped move the program forward, and presenting to Veteran stakeholders in a national forum will do just that.

“It gives us an opportunity to present our program to Veteran advocates both within and outside the VA,” Pratt said. “It helps us to highlight the positive benefits of assisting Veterans in becoming empowered advocates for their own recovery.”

Veteran X was chosen for the annual showcase as a program that can help represent innovative approaches used within the VA in the treatment of mental health. Since its inception, more than 1,600 Veterans in the Hampton Roads area have been helped by the program. In addition to helping Veterans directly, Hampton’s Veteran X program has trained 48 program facilitators and more than 20 programs have been established at 30 VA medical facilities nationwide.

Today’s Mental Health Showcase is highlighted VA mental health programs and initiatives to mental health community stakeholders including Veteran’s service organizations, community partners, professional disciplines, congressional staff members and others interested in the health and well-being of Veterans.

Author

Gary Hicks

is the Director of VA’s Office of Digital Media Engagement. He is a former managing editor of a daily newspaper and a Veteran of the U.S. Army. Gary’s wife is a senior master sergeant stationed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.