Tester advocates ‘peer-to-peer’ mental health care for veterans

Senator highlights Montana’s Project Healing Waters as innovative solution

(U.S. SENATE) – With more U.S. troops returning from the battlefield, Senator Jon Tester is striving to improve VA mental health care and eliminate barriers to treatment.

Tester today spoke at a Senate hearing aimed at cutting veterans’ wait times for VA appointments and other barriers to quality health care. According to a recent survey, nearly 40 percent of mental health providers have trouble scheduling appointments for new veteran patients within the VA’s guidelines.

Citing Montana’s successful Project Healing Waters program, Tester highlighted peer-to-peer consultations between veterans as an effective, innovative solution to better mental health care.

“Healing Waters takes veterans out for fly fishing—a little different than what you visualize, sitting in a room and talking,” Tester said. “How can we enhance vet-to-vet efforts? More importantly, how can the VA?”

In response, Dr. Charles Hoge, a retired Army colonel and leading psychology researcher, told Tester that peer-to-peer therapy could alleviate delays caused by the shortage of mental health professionals available to treat veterans.

“Peer-to-peer counseling can leverage the skills of mental health professionals to partner with lay peer-to-peer counselors that may extend the mental health profession,” Hoge told Tester. “There may be ways to incorporate peer-to-peer mentoring and counseling into traditional mental health clinics within the VA structure.”

Tester and the panel also heard moving testimony from John Roberts of the Wounded Warrior Project, who told the committee that peer-to-peer discussions effectively treated his own unseen wounds suffered as a Marine.

Tester, Montana’s only Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member, is a leading advocate for Montana’s and America’s veterans. He most recently led the effort to pass the VOW to Hire Heroes Act that will put more veterans back to work. 

He also pushed VA Secretary Eric Shinseki recently to establish a new Vet Center in Helena. Vet Centers provide peer-to-peer mental health counseling for veterans and their families.