Peer Support FAQs
Q: What are the qualifications for a Peer Specialist position in VHA?
A: A Peer Specialist is a person with a mental health and/or co-occurring condition, who has been trained to help others with these conditions, identify and achieve specific life and recovery goals. A Peer Specialist is a person who is actively engaged in his/her own recovery. A Peer Specialist is a person who volunteers or is hired to provide peer support services to others engaged in mental health treatment. At VA, peer support positions are called peer specialist positions.
The grades for these positions are GS 6-9. However, a Veteran who meets all the qualifications listed below except for the certification could enter into VA employment as a Peer Support Apprentice, GS 5. And, VA will pay to get the Veteran certified during his/her first year of employment. The following are the required qualifications for this position:
The applicant must be able to perform primarily light and sedentary duties with occasionally moderate physical demands, exercise patience, and control emotions, with reasonable accommodation if necessary, without endangering the health and safety of the applicant or others. (See also VA Directive and Handbook 5019.)
Basic Requirements for Peer Specialists, GS 102-6/9:
a. Statutory Requirements. Section 405 of Public Law 110-387, as codified in 38 U.S.C. 7402(b)(13), established that to be eligible to receive appointment to a Peer Specialist position, a person must:
Larry Fricks, Director
3173 Highway 129 North
Cleveland, GA 30528
Depression and Bi-Polar Support Alliance
Lisa Goodale, Peer Services Director
DBSA Peer-to-Peer Resource Center
730 N. Franklin St., Suite 501
Chicago, IL 60610
Georgia State Model
Bob R. Patterson, CPS
Project Director, Georgia Certified Peer Specialist Project
246 Sycamore St., Suite 260
Decatur, GA 30030
Roberta L. Howard
599 White Spar Rd.
Prescott, AZ 86303
Pennsylvania Community Integration Program
Jeanie Whitecraft, M.E.
National Technical Assistance, Training & Recovery Initiatives
Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania
1211 Chestnut St., Suite 1100
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Recovery Opportunity Center
602 636 4411 direct
602 636 5228 fax
Director of Education and Peer Support
The Transformation Center
98 Magazine St.
Roxbury, MA 02119
(a) State approved certification programs can be determined by calling your state department of mental health or accessing their website and asking for peer support training. Oftentimes there is a consumers' affairs office that will know this information. At the time of this writing, not every state had an approved certification process. (b) After March 8, 2013, the only approved peer support certification training will be offered by the state approved organizations or an organization contracted by the Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Service designed specifically for Veteran employees. Only Veterans employed as a peer support apprentice can use the DBSA contracted training, which the VA will pay for. VA will not pay for state approved trainings. Individuals who wish to become certified by an approved organization and who are not yet employed with VA may seek funding through VA's vocational rehabilitation programs, the state's vocational rehabilitation program or Compensated Work Therapy Programs offered at VA medical centers to pay for state approved certification training. Some states do not charge anything for this training. Possibly, organizations that have contracted with VHA to offer this approved Veterans Peer Specialist Certification Course like DBSA or Recovery Innovations, will be running a separate non-contract training periodically that is the same as the DBSA-VA contract training that will be approved by VA. This has not been determined at the time of this writing. Q. What does the certification training consist of? A: The training varies but usually consists of one to two weeks of face-to-face training that they will travel to and then watching another two webinars from their work or home computers, following the training. Additionally, all travel expenses will be paid for Peer Apprentices by the VA. The topics of these training sessions focus on the competencies necessary to do a peer support job. They include Understanding Psychosocial Rehabilitation and Recovery Principles, Peer Support Principles, Cultural Competence, Communications Skills, Group Facilitation Skills, Addressing Stigma, Understanding Different Illnesses, Recovery Tools, Professional Development & Workplace Skills, Managing Crisis and Emergency Situations. Q. What do Peer Specialists do in their jobs? A: Peer Specialists serve as role models by sharing their personal recovery stories, showing that recovery from mental illness is possible. They teach goal setting, problem solving, symptom management skills and a variety of recovery tools. They empower by helping others identify their strengths, supports, resources and skills. They advocate by working to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. They also act as community liaisons by identifying social supports in the community and encouraging the expansion of local community resources. Q. Why is VA hiring so many Peer Specialists now? A: VA has recognized the value and importance of Veterans being able to see recovery taking place and have a fellow Veteran help them navigate the VA system for quite some time. However, it was only recently that the President declared by Executive Order that VA would hire and train 800 new peer specialists by the end of December 2013. The VA continues to hire Veterans to fill vacancies that normally occur as part of expected turnover. The VA anticipates about 100 positions will be open annually. Q. Will other staff and Veterans know that I have a mental health condition if I am a Peer Specialist? A: Yes. Being a Peer Specialist means that an individual has accepted their mental health condition, and dealt with the stigma that society imposes on individuals with disabilities. One of their strengths is being able to advocate for themselves and the Veterans they work with to achieve a level of respect and acceptance of themselves as a person who has a mental health condition. While staff and other Veterans may not know the specific mental health condition you have, unless you share that with them, they will know that to be a Peer Specialist you have some kind of mental health condition. The VA values Peer Specialists as a unique source of knowledge and strength that other mental health practitioners can't provide. Q. What mental health conditions qualify for a Peer Specialist position? A: Many mental health conditions that have required the individual to have a diagnosis of a serious mental illness like Schizophrenia, BiPolar Disorder, Major Depression, Depression and Anxiety Disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Substance Use Disorders and others qualify. Q. What does it mean to be "in recovery" from a mental health condition? A: A person who is in recovery is able to talk about their condition candidly, and offer descriptions of helpful tools and resources they have used to manage their lives every day. They are able to live in the community of their choice, independently and have a meaningful life that they are satisfied with. It often means that they haven't been hospitalized or had legal problems as a result of their mental health condition for more than a year. It doesn't mean that they no longer have any symptoms or don't need to take medication to manage their symptoms, but those symptoms no longer interfere with major functioning in most life activities in a significant way. Q. Will I need to tell the VA Human Resource staff about my recovery? A: You will only be asked three questions to see if you qualify for a Peer Support Apprentice or Specialist position: (a) Are you a Veteran who meets the definitions described earlier? (b) Have you recovered from or are you in the process of recovering from a mental health condition (including substance use disorder) for at least one year? (c) Are you currently certified as a Peer Specialist? After you answer "Yes" to at least (a) and (b) your application will be passed along to the program hiring officials for consideration. If you are called in for an interview, the program hiring officials will ask you to talk about your recovery experiences to see how they will best match the position(s) that they are recruiting for. Q. If I am receiving service-connected compensation for my disability, will it be affected by becoming employed as a Peer Specialist? A: Having a service connected disability may make you eligible for certain excepted appointments that would allow you to apply for one of these positions without competing against other Veterans. Please see a human resources professional to learn more about this option. However, we cannot say how employment would affect your receipt of service-connected compensation, as that is a highly individualized issue and may depend on your status. Please see a Veterans Benefits Administration official about this issue.