Sometimes the best medicine for a veteran is the company of another veteran

The Conversation (May 2016) | Elisa Borah

Many take time on Memorial Day to remember the Americans who have given their lives in service to our country.

For veterans and their families, that sentiment of remembrance is felt year-round. Many veterans suffer lifelong anguish over the loss of their brothers and sisters in arms. For them, Memorial Day is a day like every other day – a day they remember those who died at war.

This shared grief is just one way some veterans are affected by their military service. Veterans are also molded by military culture – a unique set of values, traditions, language and even humor. Military culture has unique subcultures, but it has enough consistency across different branches, ranks and time periods to make most veterans feel a kinship.

Recognizing this kinship has led veteran service and health care organizations to encourage veterans to build trusting relationships and support each other. Researchers have learned that veterans are more likely to share personal information and ask advice about many things, including health care, from fellow veterans. That’s why the VA offers employment to veterans as peer specialists.

I’m a mental health services researcher at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. I focus on increasing the availability of social supports and improving the efficacy of mental health treatment options for veterans and their families. Last year I had the opportunity to study the Texas-funded Military Veteran Peer Network, a statewide program that provides peer-to-peer support in 37 communities.

My research supports the idea that veterans are an important resource who can be trained to support fellow veterans in need. What’s more, I’ve learned that civilian care for veterans can be improved when civilians are trained in military culture. The MVPN offers military-informed care training to civilian providers and law enforcement personnel throughout the state.

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