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Peer-to-Peer Mentoring: A Catalyst for Empowering Veterans

By R.T. Garner

By R.T. GarnerPublished 30 days ago 5 min read
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Peer-to-Peer Mentoring: A Catalyst for Empowering Veterans
Photo by Susan Wilkinson on Unsplash

“Brave men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Roman philosopher

Empowering Veterans

In the summer of 2009, Sam, an American soldier, started dealing with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Though he was diagnosed with PTSD by doctors in 2009, he initially denied its existence and avoided discussing it with anybody, despite their insistence. It was terrifying for him because he was worried about what his family and friends would think and how his diagnosis would affect him.

As a soldier, he continued driving on until a particular day in the summer of 2009, four years following his departure from Iraq's battlefield. The exact cause behind this turning point is still unknown to Sam. Perhaps it was the sight of the young Soldiers' remains that he helped collect after an IED explosion obliterated their vehicle, knowing deep down that they would never reunite with their loved ones. It could also be attributed to the time of year, as it coincided with the haunting memories of Iraqi children covered in blood and innocent victims of a market bombing in Balad, Iraq.

Despite being unable to pinpoint the exact trigger, he felt an intense tightening in his chest out of nowhere one evening in 2009, making breathing difficult. He felt enclosed and overwhelmed by panic in a way that made him get out of bed instantly, convinced he would die. Although he considered going to the emergency room, he found solace in my military training, which urged him to persevere. His morning began with panic, fear of confinement, claustrophobia, and tightness in his chest. When that moment came, he wondered whether he might have had a heart attack. He needed to seek medical attention if that was the case.

He returned home to Sarasota after my medical retirement. There, he realized that while he no longer burdened the Army, he was now one of those who were most important to him: his family and friends. Like many others, he hid himself to avoid being seen as another broken ex-soldier. In contrast to what he expected, those around him provided help that worked against him instead.

In the darkest hours of the night, memories of recovering the bodies of his comrades haunted him. Iraqi children were tragically killed, and the blood on his uniform is still an unforgettable memory for him. While he enjoyed his family's company during the day, he found himself confronted by the faces of many family members of those who had lost their lives, and he continued to be haunted by the loss of fellow soldiers.

He sought help because he grew tired of not being there while battling his inner demons. The moment had arrived for him to return home for real. His peer support specialist at the VA informed Sam of a coffee social (peer mentor group) provided by Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services. Unlike the many doctors and therapists he had met before, these groups truly helped me bring everything into focus.

Except for other combat soldiers, Sam felt that no one else truly understood the weight of his experiences. He sought out fellow soldiers who wore combat patches to find solace and mutual understanding. Together, they formed a tight bond, grappling with the immense weight of the deaths, destruction, and pain we had seen firsthand. Before, they felt isolated, fearful of seeking aid, and burdened by the haunting memories that plagued them.

Peer-to-peer mentoring is a highly effective method for developing and honing leadership abilities, gaining insights from others, and establishing a support network. This entails forming a partnership with individuals with comparable aspirations, obstacles, or interests and engaging in a reciprocal exchange of feedback, guidance, and motivation. Peer-to-peer mentoring has thus been a valuable resource for Sam and other veterans, providing many benefits. Here are just a few:

Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Mentoring for Veterans:

1. Development of a sense of camaraderie and belonging:

Veterans can connect through peer-to-peer mentoring programs, combating feelings of isolation during the transition back to civilian life. Peer Mentors provide a sense of community and understanding during the transition—supporting the veteran and easing the transition.

2. Provision of emotional support and the reduction of feelings of isolation:

Transitioning from military to civilian life is emotionally challenging for veterans. Peer mentors provide a safe space for veterans to express themselves, reducing isolation and helping them process their experiences. This support encourages veterans to seek help when needed.

3. Transfer of practical knowledge and skills:

Experienced peer mentors help mentees with careers, education, finances, and resources. They share their knowledge and lessons to support veterans in transitioning to civilian life and succeeding.

4. Enhancement of personal growth and self-confidence:

During peer mentoring, veterans explore strengths, develop new skills, and set personal growth goals. Mentors encourage their mentees to challenge themselves, take on new responsibilities, and aim for excellence. With peer mentors, veterans can gain confidence, recognize their potential, and achieve post-military goals.

5. Facilitation of successful reintegration into civilian life:

Veterans who take part in peer-to-peer mentoring receive aid in navigating civilian life, finding jobs, and accessing healthcare. Mentors reduce stress and increase their chances of success in civilian roles.

6. Improved mental health outcomes:

As veterans transition to civilian life, they often experience mental health issues. Peer mentors provide veterans with a safe and supportive space to express their concerns. Having a mentor improves veterans' mental well-being and reduces mental health risks. They help veterans seek help, practice self-care, and develop coping strategies. Mentors share their journeys and offer support.

Sam has also joined another group through Goodwill Manasota Veterans Services called Lutz Buddy Up. They meet regularly to share experiences and provide support. They provide a safe environment where everyone can share their challenges and successes. During his time in these groups, he has gained advice on navigating the job market, adjusting to civilian life, and dealing with the emotional effects of those with similar experiences. Transitioning to civilian life has been challenging for veterans; however, together, they support each other through this process.

We are social beings, and our well-being depends on our interactions with others. For veterans transitioning to civilian life, peer-to-peer mentoring is crucial. During this challenging time, programs like Lutz Buddy Up and Goodwill’s Coffee Social provide support. In this new chapter, veterans can receive help from practical advice and emotional support from a mentor group. As long as these programs are funded, all veterans can get the help they need during their transition.

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About the Creator

R.T. Garner

I am passionate about helping people achieve more than they ever thought possible. I am vibrant, alive, full of possibilities. I ache from a desire to create positive change, and I am driven to help others realize their own potential.

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