Veteran Peer Support: Veteran Overcomes Hurdles to Join Peer Support Group From Across the World
David Long is a Marine veteran who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s managing traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and heard about Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) while recovering from combat injuries.
After connecting with the organization, David joined a WWP in-person veteran peer support group in North Carolina. Later in the year, he accepted a job offer in Kuwait with the USO, a nonprofit that supports active-duty servicemen and women. Rather than giving up the important connections he made through WWP peer support, David takes full advantage of remote connections to stay in touch with his peer support group – specifically because of the significance it is making in his life.
“I have the active-duty guys that I work with in Kuwait,” David said. “But I don’t have anyone else I’m familiar with, so being part of a peer support group, and being able to connect virtually, has been a huge help in the last seven or eight months.”
Healing in the Early Morning
David’s work shift at the USO ends late at night, so he stays up until 1 am to connect with his peer support group at 6 pm EST, or North Carolina time. He values and appreciates the interaction with the group of veterans with whom he built rapport while he was home. So much so, even cross oceans and continents, David is eager to stay connected with his military brothers and sisters to both receive support and provide a safe place for others to share their thoughts and feelings.
“I figured out that even though we don’t all deal with things in the same way, something I share might help someone else,” David added. “It’s gratifying to know that maybe something you do might, unbeknownst to you, help someone else.”
A Global Reach That Began as a Home-Grown Idea
Dana Hutson is the peer support group leader for David and his fellow veterans. She received peer support training through WWP with a desire to continue serving her community after her service in the U.S. Army. She is passionate about bringing veterans together to help connect dots and create strong systems of support via peer support groups.
During an event she hosted, Dana noticed a reserved veteran whom she surmised was “probably coaxed to come out” to a veteran cycling event.
“When I first met Rob, I observed that he had a service animal, and he sort of talked through the dog,” Dana said.
Warrior Rob Caudill had been seeking a path to healing. His meeting with Dana and other veterans led to growth and purpose in the form of an enduring collaboration that would benefit other veterans. But that didn’t happen overnight.
“When I moved to North Carolina in 2017, I had a really hard time with the transition and I didn’t really reach out to anybody,” Rob said.
When Rob reached out, he found that connecting with other veterans “was exactly what I needed,” he said. “I needed some kind of interaction with peers – somebody who gets what's going on.”
When other connection opportunities came up, he signed up again and brought his wife and service dog along. Eventually, Rob was ready to help Dana stand up a peer support group. He covers the technical aspects for veterans calling in remotely, and is committed to setting up those systems to enable those far away, like David, the ability to maintain their lifeline to other veterans.
Bringing the Power of Connection to Local and Global Communities
Dana and Rob started co-hosting their peer support group in the spring of 2022. The group serves now veterans from different areas of North Carolina, South Carolina, and remote locations.
The first Wednesday of the month at 5:30 pm, warriors meet in person in Salisbury, North Carolina, to share a meal. Rob sets up the audiovisual connection to go up at 6 pm, enabling both in-person and virtual participation. Those who join remotely jump in at 6 pm for the peer support portion of the meeting.
It’s a diverse group of combat and noncombat injured veterans who previously didn’t have a place or a chance to gather.
Importance of Veteran Peer Support Groups
Veteran peer support groups through Wounded Warrior Project allow post-9/11 veterans a safe place to connect and learn from others who understand what they’re going through.
Connection is a vital component of finding fulfillment. According to WWP’s 2021 Annual Warrior Survey, 62% of the warriors surveyed reported feeling lonely, and warriors who have been out of the service longer have higher overall loneliness scores. The survey also showed the likelihood of experiencing PTSD symptoms is 57% lower among warriors who have maintained the social support of their military friends.
Dana and Rob have lived this.
“Sometimes I am the one who has issues, and the veterans who come to the peer support group help me,” Rob said.
Being there for other veterans after hours and on weekends is part of the responsibility of these dedicated peer support group leaders.
“I am ASIST-trained, which means I’m available to help someone in a crisis situation, and I have trained four others in the group to be Safe Talk-trained and intervene in suicide prevention if needed,” Dana said.
Dana and Rob realize that the path from military to civilian life is seldom a straight line and, through their own warrior journeys, are respectful of each person’s progress.
“Both Rob and I were once the warrior being carried – like the Wounded Warrior Project logo – and so I remember what it feels like to be carried,” Dana said. “It’s always a blessing and an honor to be the warrior carrying another. The people who carried me are amazing. They gave me confidence in myself and kept me going in the right direction. There were many times when I just wanted to lay down, and just wanted to kick and scream as they let go of me. Being a veteran gives you a perspective when you talk to people who are transitioning out of the military.”
Contact: Raquel Rivas – Public Relations, email@example.com, 904.426.9783
About Wounded Warrior Project
Since 2003, Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) has been meeting the growing needs of warriors, their families, and caregivers — helping them achieve their highest ambition. Learn more.