From homeless to hopeful: Veterans thrive with peer specialists’ support


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Five years ago, Marine Corps Veteran Frederick Nardei returned to service, but not the military. He became a certified peer support specialist, dedicated to helping fellow Veterans whose futures were as uncertain as his had once been.

Nardei served as a peer specialist for a recent study at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, helping Veterans enrolled in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) manage their mental health and substance misuse challenges. The study was also conducted at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford, Mass., where it was led by Dr. Marsha Ellison.

Actively and significantly engaged in their own recovery from mental health issues, VA peer specialists serve as success stories for their fellow Veterans. Their experience using mental health services, combined with their VA training and certification, have made them valuable additions to VA’s mental health offerings.

“My own experiences with homelessness, drug abuse and mental illness had prepared my heart to serve in ways that the Veterans could easily relate to… When I share my recovery story, they say that they are inspired and empowered because they can see that I am the evidence that recovery is possible and achievable,” said Nardei.

The study, led by Pittsburgh VA’s Dr. Matthew Chinman, found that formerly homeless Veterans who worked extensively with peer specialists had greater improvements in their symptoms than those who did not work with a peer specialist. When asked about their work with a peer specialist, both the Veterans and the other HUD-VASH staff expressed great satisfaction. Veterans reported being less isolated, more integrated into their community, and more involved in recovery activities as a result of their work with a peer specialist.

Who better to help other Veterans on their recovery journey than someone who has been in their shoes?

“The Veterans who struggled with the shame and stigma of being homeless were able to overcome those barriers… because I was able to share with them my own experience with being homeless for seven months after my wife left, because of my heroin addiction,” said Nardei, one of an estimated 1,100 Veterans serving as VA peer specialists.

Recover, heal, grow

The peer support program inspires and empowers participants to recover, heal and grow. Nardei believes that there is nothing more powerful than seeing someone accomplish the things that once seemed impossible.

He’s the proof he inspires in others.

To become a VA-trained peer specialist, visit the VA Careers webpage for details.

To learn more about peer specialists and their how they improve Veterans’ lives, download the Peer Support Toolkit.


Matthew Chinman, Ph.D., is a research scientist at the VISN 4 Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System (VAPHS) and the director of the Implementation Core of the VAPHS Health Services Research and Development Service (HSR&D) Center of Innovation Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion. 

Author

VA Staff Contributor

Comments

  1. Jesse Still    

    PARALYZED BY FEAR CONTINUED…
    Before moving to MS, I researched the quality of medical care provided by the Montgomery VA Medical Center and was SHOCKED by the results. From respected newspaper and magazine articles, written by unbiased journalists, I learned that the Montgomery VA Medical Center has received the WORST RATING of all VA Medical facilities in the United States.
    I don’t believe everything I read…but, after becoming a patient of this VA Medical Center, I have found some truth to the allegations. But I need health care and this is my ONLY option. Before moving here, I had Medicaid and EBT benefits. I arrived in MS on the 8th of January and do NOT know where to start to restore these benefits. As I wrote earlier (30 minutes ago), I need help. Who do I call or contact? I AM READY TO GIVE UP.

  2. Jesse Still    

    In Jesus’ Name, I am a USAF chronically ill veteran and so close to becoming homeless, I am PARALYZED BY FEAR. I just moved home to MS after living in another state for 30 years. I moved home because my family “said” they would help me. NOT TRUE! I don’t have transportation to the Montgomery VA Medical Center or anywhere for that matter. I NEED HELP. I need to find a small studio apartment close to the VA Medical Center and DO NOT KNOW WHO TO ASK FOR HELP. My family’s promises of help have turned out to be HOLLOW and UNTRUE. I am at the END of my ROPE.

  3. Anthony velez    

    Im homeless right now and I don’t know what to do i feel helpless and I don’t know what to do with my life now does anyone have any kind of rooms rent

    1. JoLynn Moore    

      Go to the Salvation Army. They will help you for free even if not a VET. But there are a few programs for vets especially to help you. Please go. Call 211 also. For other resources. There is help out there and ur doing the right thing by asking for it, that takes guts.

  4. Richard Zakosky    

    I’m the abandoned veteran with an untold story

    1. Stephanie Barefoot    

      I thought I was abandoned once…turns out it was my own isolation. Tell your story. I will listen.

    2. Mike Holmes    

      It’s scary how many of us there are that feel this way. I had to die and go into a coma for 5 months after being told I was “malingering” by the reception nurse at VA ROSEBURG, OR. The only reason I am alive is because it wasn’t my time.

  5. Richard Zakosky    

    You know I suffer pretty bad from depression and after I got forced out of my job at the VA hospital in October of 2013, I call myself the abandoned veteran/untold story can’t go to the main hospital because I used work on the 5th floor, if I get so sick, I can’t get critical care help because I used work 5south and thats were I got black bald from. At least I’m not involved in medical criminal activity anymore.

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