Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Executive Leadership

First Supervisor

Dr. Joshua Fegley

Second Supervisor

Dr. Deborah B. Johnson


The purpose of this empirical phenomenological study was to gain an understanding of the experience of United States military veteran peer support providers. Veterans are an at-risk population when it comes to mental illness, substance use, and suicide. Veterans in recovery for mental illness or substance use can become peer support specialists and use their own recovery as a model to help other struggling veterans. However, providing peer services exposes veteran peer providers to the traumatic stories and suffering of their peers. Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5, such exposure can cause secondary trauma symptoms in the provider. Person-centered theory and empirical phenomenology were combined to conduct semi-structured interviews with 12 veteran peer providers. Overall, participants felt that peer support was an extremely positive experience for themselves and their clients, even considering identified challenges to providing peer services. Secondary trauma was identified as a challenge by all 12 participants. Other challenges reported were stigma, boundaries, self-care, and reaching difficult clients. Even with all the challenges, participants reported that providing peer services had an overwhelmingly positive impact on their lives, providing benefits such as a sense of purpose, reinforcing their own recovery, providing hope for themselves and their clients, creating a sense of camaraderie, and being able to reach difficult clients. These findings demonstrate that peer support results in positive experiences for peer providers, not just the recipients. These lived experiences can be used to enhance research and funding for peer support so that it continues to grow as a field, providing the opportunity for veterans to live beyond their struggles and diagnoses.

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