The Greater Houston Region is home to more than 280,000 veterans – almost one-fifth of the state’s veteran population. A decade of collaborative efforts initially led by a tri-party partnership between Harris County, the City of Houston, and MHA of Greater Houston has produced a robust network of veteran-serving organizations. This initial work also brought the attention of large national veteran-serving organizations that are now providing services in our region. Even so, veterans who struggle during their community reintegration process due to their wounds of war and become involved with the justice system are still severely underserved. The role of our Veterans’ Behavioral Health program, helping justice-involved veterans is one of a servant leader.  The program’s most significant partnership is with the Veterans Treatment Courts. The program provides peer mentorship and connection to services and support for veterans participating in three treatment court programs – the Harris County Felony Court, the Harris County Misdemeanor Court, and the Galveston County Felony & Misdemeanor Courts.

Peer support services/peer mentoring form the cornerstone of our Veteran Behavioral Health program. There is a great deal of research and literature that points to the benefits of peer support/peer mentoring for populations including people with mental health and/or substance use disorders as well as for veterans. “Lived experience” is at the heart of peer support/peer mentoring – the ability to connect with someone and understand their experience because you have been through a similar experience yourself, whether that experience is a mental illness or deployment as a service member and subsequent transition back to civilian life. Our peer services take the form of extended one-on-one mentorship; support groups; and support as needed for veterans in crisis and veterans needing other resources and support. We provide peer services for justice-involved veterans as well as for the veteran population at large. One of the many strengths of our program is our cohort of dedicated peer mentors/volunteers. Some of these individuals provide peer mentorship for veterans enrolled in the Veterans Treatment Court programs, while others work with us offering support groups; providing jail in-reach; and assisting with our training sessions and other activities.

In addition to the treatment courts, we’ve assisted veterans and their families by linking them to health and social services which help prevent the exacerbation of mental and behavioral health concerns among veterans. These individuals attended peer support groups, received one on-one peer support, and received referrals to other veteran-serving and community organizations, in addition to mental health counseling. The community’s capacity to assist veterans with a mental illness or behavioral health concern has been enhanced through the work of trained volunteers, first/frontline responders and caregivers, and family members.