In times of emotional distress, it can be hard to explain the small yet important things to other people, but a person who has “been there” already understands. The 14 Peer Support Specialists (PSS) who, in March, graduated in the VA Loma Linda Medical Center auditorium are people who have overcome mental hardship and subsequently learned to help others do the same.
Completing the condensed two-week Peer Employment Training (PET) program required lots of ambition. Attending classes up to 40 hours per week, while continuing to fulfill daily life obligations, sparked doubt in the mind of a retired U.S. Navy Veteran who considers her strength and uplifting attitude to be her most valuable assets.
“I’ve had a lot of struggles in life, living on the street with my family. Just being able to get to this point today, to the road of recovery, has been a long time coming. I personally didn’t think I was going to be able to pass this class, but I surprised myself and got a 98.8 percent,” said PSS Shirrell McCarey who comes from a military family.
McCarey, along with other graduates, gasped when she saw the large royal blue two-fold matte mounted certificate she had earned, which were a surprise arranged by Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter of the 62nd District from the California State Assembly. The inside of the greeting card-like certificates featured the assembly’s seal.
Eight Veterans and five San Bernardino County residents were selected to participate in the Arizona-based Recovery Opportunity Center’s 80-hour Peer Employment Training program. Each person selected had already proven his or her determination to succeed by completing other personal growth programs.
According to Recovery Education Specialist Gloria Hunter, an instructor who traveled to San Bernardino County from Arizona, the program normally costs around $1,200 per person, but county funding made it possible for all 13 graduates to participate at no cost to them.
Many participants, including Navy Veteran Raymond Morales, initially saw the program as simply a career advancement tool, something he could give to himself, but learned that there was far more satisfaction to be gained by improving the lives of his peers.
“It was for selfish reasons why I came here; I realized taking this class that [it] wasn’t about giving to yourself as much as it is giving to others, but ironically you have to give to yourself first before you can give to others,” said Morales.
He compared his feelings of pride and joy at the ceremony to those he felt the day his first son was born.
As a peer support specialist, Morales and his fellow graduates will use their own recovery journey experiences and training to aid other Veterans in mental health recovery programs such as Vet to Vet.
Vet to Vet members help other Veterans with mental health recovery while continuing to improve their own quality of life. Program meetings are held weekly and can be included as part of a Veteran’s recovery plan along with professional mental health services.