National Alliance on Mental Illness
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The Vet to Vet Program

by Moe Armstrong, NAMI Board member and Veterans subcommittee chair

Vet to Vet Preamble

We are proud to be part of the Vet To Vet program.

We are proud to be part of an alliance with family members, professionals and other mental health consumers.

We work together out of sense of shared respect and dignity.

We work to improve and increase mental health services through community education and service. We work together not against each other. We try to find solutions through education. Our motto is Gladly Teach and Gladly Learn.

We believe that people with a psychiatric condition, our families, friends and advocates have the right to services and information, which assist in making informed choices.

We believe that people with a psychiatric condition have the right to learn, live and to work in the community.

We believe that participants in the program should drive services to people with a psychiatric condition. We should focus on the functional needs of the veteran with mental illness with possible family involvement as the services are provided.

Recovery, Education and Community Service can also be new job opportunities for our future employment in mental health services.

We are Veterans in a self-help program called Vet to Vet.

Who We Are

Vet to Vet is a self-help program of veterans helping veterans overcome both mental illness and substance abuse.

There will be no miracles. There will be no cures. We will have to work every day in our lives to keep sane, stable, safe and sober. We can keep our sanity, stability, safety and sobriety through mutual self-help support meetings and attending our mental health programs. Vet to Vet was established in the early spring of the year 2002. This program started in the Errera Community Care Center in West Haven, Connecticut. It was part of the VA system of mental health care. The funding came from Northeast Program Evaluation Center, VISN 1 MIRECC and an educational grant from Eli Lilly.

Veterans have been informally helping each other gain realistic levels of recovery for years.

The VA decided to officially train and develop peer educational support meetings inside the VA Errera Community Care Center and evaluate these self-help meetings. These meetings would be an adjunct to the care that was already being provided by the Community Care Center. They would not take the place of mental health care given by the center. We would work together with our VA mental health system to make our lives better and ease our suffering from mental illness and/or substance abuse.

Our goal is to find veterans who are doing better with their lives and mental illness. We also find veterans who want to get off and stay off drugs or alcohol. We find veterans who want to stop being abusive and being abused. We form educational support meetings. We work with each other and learn about mental illness/substance abuse/abusive behaviors. We can change.

Mental illness will not go away.

We can live with this psychiatric condition. Mental illness is likely to occur for many people around the age of 18 to 25. This is the age that many people are in the military.

Mental illness is gotten by chance.

Some people become mentally ill and some people don't. There is no immunization against mental illness.

Mental illness is very unpredictable.

Nobody knows when it will happen or whom it will happen to. Once a person becomes mentally ill, we have to be prepared to learn about mental illness. Then, we teach other people what we have learned so that we move to common understanding about mental illness.

Vet to Vet is part of that educational program.

We are learning from other veterans who have a psychiatric condition. We are learning about mental illness and the mental health system. We learn from the Recovery Workbook published by Boston University. We learn from the book Transforming Madness by Jay Nuegeboren. We learn from Mental Illness Anonymous published by MIA press. We have writers groups, which are always generating materials that we can review and discuss. We have the Wellness Course written by Eli Lilly Company to see how we can change our lives through good food and healthy living. We have Mary Ellen Copeland's WRAP Plan. We learn about stigma from the book Don't Call Me Nuts by Robert Lundin and Pat Cochran. We learn from each other. First, we read these materials together, and then we discuss what we have read. We discuss how these materials have related to our lives. "Gladly Teach and Gladly Learn" is the motto of Vet to Vet.