Using Peer Support Groups to Enhance Community Integration of Veterans in Transition

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Abstract

Peer support groups, also known as “self-help groups,” provide a unique tool for helping veterans working through the military-to-civilian transition to achieve higher levels of social support and community integration. The number and variety of community-based peer support groups has grown to the point that there are now more visits to these groups each year than to mental health professionals. The focus of these groups on the provision of social support, the number and variety of groups, the lack of cost, and their availability in the community make them a natural transition tool for building community-based social support. A growing literature suggests that these groups are associated with measurable improvements in social support, clinical symptoms, self-efficacy and coping. For clinical populations, the combination of peer support groups and clinical care results in better outcomes than either alone. Given this evidence, we suggest clinical services use active referral strategies to help veterans engage in peer support groups as a means of improving community reintegration and clinical outcomes. Finally, suggestions for identifying appropriate peer support groups and assisting with active referrals are provided.

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