DryHootch iPeer

Improving access to trained peer mentor support for Wisconsin veterans on college campuses

Full Project Name:DryHootch iPeer: A social & technology support program for veteran mental healthPrimary Community Organization:DryHootchPrimary Academic Partner:Zeno Franco, PhD, Family and Community MedicineAward Amount:$749,797
Award Date
January2013
Project Duration:66 months

Project Description Narrative:


Mental illness is one of the leading causes of disability and death among young adults. For combat veterans, mental health issues and challenges with reintegration to civilian life can have profound consequences on their personal and community health. Veterans returning to civilian life after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq (Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom or OEF/OIF) are at disproportionate risk of developing mental health disorders with life-long consequences for individuals, families and communities.

Veterans face barriers to accessing mental health care, both in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and in civilian care settings. While the VHA is the single largest provider of mental health care for veterans, fewer than 30% of OEF/OIF veterans with new PTSD diagnoses complete the recommend evidence-based treatment within one year. Veterans under age 25, those referred by non-mental health clinics, and those more than 11 miles from a VHA facility were less likely to complete treatment.

Following a growing body of literature suggesting that peer mentorship can reduce individual risk and community burden, this project aims to improve access to trained peer mentor support for younger veterans at risk for mental health problems on college campuses using a combination of face-to-face and smartphone interventions.

Community partners:
Edgewood College, Marquette University, Mental Health America of Wisconsin, Milwaukee (Zablocki) VA Medical Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Waukesha County Technical College

Additonal MCW academic partners:
Leslie Ruffalo, PhD, Family and Community Medicine; Jeff Whittle, MD, Medicine

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


• Established a 60-member veteran health coalition that included membership from 38 agencies and institutions across Wisconsin while also enhancing the voice of veterans by engaging veterans in planning, resource fairs, and advising on activities throughout the project

• Conducted a mental health access assessment to guide the development of project infrastructure and activities

• Increased access to and evaluation of veteran peer mentor services on college campuses through mHealth iPeer mentor intervention, training 66 peer mentors and enrolling 304 participants resulting in a statistically significant reduction in PTSD symptoms from baseline to 12-week discharge, showing empirical support for this type of para-professional intervention with U.S. military veterans

• Integrated peer mentor training program into institutional process, receiving approval from the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division as its official Peer Specialist Training Curriculum for peer mentors working with veterans

• Published a Veteran Health Coalition's report on wraparound services for veterans and their families

• Disseminated project results through local networks and national meetings and published articles in various journals such as Proceedings of the 15th Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management and Practicing Anthropology

• Leveraged $183,000 in funding from other sources

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