1149. A Day in the Life–What’s It Really Like to Be a VA Supervisory Peer Specialist?
Jason A. Zimmerman
“After serving 8 years as a paramedic in the U.S. Army, which I believe I was very good at, I really thought I would do that job until I was unable to physically do it. I transitioned from the service, took 5 days off and took a position at a level one trauma center in my local community as a paramedic. Again, I thought that this role was what I would do for the rest of my career. I learned pretty quickly, however, that a car wreck looks pretty similar to a gunshot wound or an IED explosion and particularly that 18-hour days were not beneficial to me or my family. I realized that it was something I had to give up.
“I found myself lost again during that transition period. Once again, it was my Dad who stepped in and said, ‘You have a job that is killing you. You have to get your foot in the door at the VA and you will find something.’ And that is exactly what I did. I became an administrative officer for the chief nurse, Juan, at the local VA. I did that for about 6 months and hated every minute of it.
“One of the folks I met there was a Vietnam vet, Dave Long, who happened to be a social worker. At that moment I was totally adrift with no direction at all. I was hearing from a lot of people—‘Hey, this is normal, just get used to it, it’s the way things are.’ Fortunately for me, Dave overheard a couple of these conversations, and he took it upon himself to pull me aside and gave me what I described as a good, swift kick in the pants, and said: ‘You’ve got a couple of choices. I’ve been where you are at and you can listen to what they’re telling you, or you can prove them wrong. Because I see great potential in you.’
“Honestly, outside of my Dad and my Grandma—my Mom was great, too—this was one of the first times that anyone had given me such positive reinforcement for the work I was doing. He went on to say, ‘I’ve seen you working with Juan (the chief nurse), and it’s clear you have a talent for communicating with people, for connecting with them with respect and compassion. That’s a rare gift that most people don’t have.’
“At that point, I was just going through the motions: get up, go to work, make it through the day do boring work, go home, then repeat the ritual the next day.
“Because of Dave’s encouragement I began applying for every job the VA had open because I realized how much I truly missed working with and engaging with people. And pushing papers was not cutting it! I applied for 6 or 8 jobs, but nothing was a fit. Then two weeks later, out of the blue I got a call from the chief of mental health asking me to join his team, in a position called a Health Tech, which evolved into the role of Peer Support. The role was all about helping other veterans through your own personal experiences—making yourself vulnerable by sharing your own recovery journey.
“The last 17 years that I have served as a Supervisory Peer Specialist with the Peer Support Outreach Center and Veterans Crisis Line has been the most gratifying and fulfilling work of my entire career.
“I’d also like to acknowledge the VA’s updated version of its mission statement:
On March 16, 2023, the VA announced an updated version of its 1959 mission statement. The new motto will still be based on President Abraham Lincoln’s original words but instead reads: ‘To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.’”
The new mission statement acknowledges all who have served in our nation’s military, as well as Veteran families, caregivers, and survivors. VA serves more than 50,000 Veteran caregivers and more than 600,000 Veteran survivors. Additionally, VA serves more than 600,000 women Veterans, the fastest growing cohort of Veterans. Millions of Veterans who did not serve in combat are also served by VA and provided benefits earned through honorable military service. There is no greater calling than to care for those who ensured our freedom.
Jason A. Zimmerman is a native of Appalachia and a US Army Combat Veteran, serving as a Combat Medic with the 1st /505th Parachute Brigade. He has served for the last seventeen years plus as a Peer in the VA Healthcare System, working currently as a Supervisory Peer Specialist with the Peer Support Outreach Center (PSOC)/Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). He is a married father of two daughters, avid golfer, and a history and philosophy enthusiast.
Jay is a nationally respected speaker regarding improving the understanding of Veteran’s experiences and care needs. Over the years, Jay has had the opportunity to serve in various roles assisting in the evolution of Peer Services and serving on numerous VA national work groups and committees. He is a nationally published subject matter expert in the delivery of peer services.
He has served on several details to the VA Central Office–Suicide Prevention Office, filling the role of the Lethal Means Reduction Veteran SME. Most recently Jay served as a member of the Presidential PREVENTS workgroup as a SME on both Lethal Means as well as community engagement and partnerships.
Connecting With Jason A. Zimmerman
To reach the Veterans Crisis Line
If you’re a veteran in crisis or concerned about someone who is, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive 24/7 confidential support.
You don’t have to be enrolled in VA benefits or health care to connect.
To reach responders:
- Dial 988, then press 1
- Chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/chat
- Text 838255
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