School of Social Welfare Celebrates Success of the Dwyer Veterans Peer-to-Peer Support Program
“We at the University at Albany have seen the transformational power of the Dwyer program thanks to Dr. Eric Hardiman and his colleagues at UAlbany’s School of Social Welfare, who serve in an evaluation and research capacity to analyze the program’s service delivery,” Rodríguez said. “In order to identify best practices, Dr. Hardiman and his team of doctoral research assistants communicate and collaborate with each county's Dwyer program, not only collecting data, but also providing valuable technical assistance and support to the program.
“Through our involvement with this project, UAlbany remains strongly committed to bettering the lives of veterans across the state of New York. The success of this program and its growth in its first decade are a testament to Private First Class Dwyer and to all veterans who returned from service suffering with PTSD, traumatic brain injury, or any of the range of stressors our veterans face after discharge. The Dwyer program is a shining example of true community-based innovation and has made tremendous contributions to the wellness of New York State and to our veteran and military communities.”
By offering mental health and other supports in a non-clinical environment, the Dwyer program alleviates the burden of stigma that can surround mental health care. Open to all veterans, it also fills a critical service gap for those who are not receiving VA assistance.
“The Dwyer program has facilitated over 12,000 support groups to date, with county-level programs reporting over 300,000 individual face-to-face contacts with veterans,” Hardiman said. “These are support groups provided by veterans for veterans, not with clinicians, counselors, psychiatrists or social workers, but peer veterans.”
Hardiman explained that one of the key strengths of the Dwyer program is its role in providing identity and purpose for veterans. This, he said, is something that many veterans report missing after leaving the military.
“The Dwyer program gives that sense of purpose back, and that purpose is saving other veterans' lives,” Hardiman said. “When you see veterans going to a baseball game together or going bowling together, these things might not look like interventions; they may not look clinical. But that might be a life-saving moment. That might be the moment when that person emerges from isolation and starts to connect with his or her peers and think differently about their hope for the future. While it's not always obvious to the casual observer, this is a lifesaving program.”
New York is leading the country in delivering peer support services for veterans statewide.
“There is no other state in the country that has delivered a systematic program like this with the scope and impact that Dwyer has had,” said Hardiman. “New York State has shown that rather than assuming that veterans’ needs could be met through the VA or through other programs, that Dwyer program has shown that peer support works, that veterans are valuable, that they are a critical resource for the state.”
Speakers at the event included:
- President Havidán Rodríguez, University at Albany
- NYS Senator Jacob Ashby (Ranking Member, Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee)
- NYS Assemblymember Aileen Gunther (Chair, Committee on Mental Health)
- NYS Assemblymember Patricia Fahy
- NYS Office of Mental Health Deputy Commissioner Jeremy Darman
- NYS Department of Veterans’ Services Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Pomerance
- Gavin T. Walters Sr, MSW-USAF, Program Director of Vet2Vet of Ulster County and NY State Dwyer Coalition Facilitator
- Eric Hardiman, Associate Professor, UAlbany School of Social Welfare
Resources for Veterans
On-campus resources for UAlbany students can be accessed through the Office of Veteran and Military Student Services. Students can contact the office by emailing [email protected] or calling 518-442-5501.
To learn more about the Dwyer program or get involved, contact Gavin Walters at [email protected].