Telephone veteran peer coaching for mental health treatment engagement among rural veterans: The importance of secondary outcomes and qualitative data in a randomized controlled trial

J Rural Health. 2021 Sep;37(4):788-800. doi: 10.1111/jrh.12582. Epub 2021 May 12.


Purpose: To determine the effectiveness of telephone motivational coaching delivered by veteran peers to improve mental health (MH) treatment engagement among veterans.

Methods: Veterans receiving primary care from primarily rural VA community-based outpatient clinics were enrolled. Veterans not engaged in MH treatment screening positive for ≥1 MH problem(s) were randomized to receive veteran peer-delivered feedback on MH screen results and referrals plus 4 sessions of telephone motivational coaching (intervention) versus veteran peer-delivered MH results and referrals without motivational coaching (control). Blinded telephone assessments were conducted at baseline, 8, 16, and 32 weeks. Cox proportional hazard models compared MH clinician-directed treatment initiation between groups; descriptive analyses compared MH treatment retention, changes in MH symptoms, quality of life, and self-care.

Findings: Among 272 veterans screening positive for ≥1 MH problem(s), 45% who received veteran peer telephone motivational coaching versus 46% of control participants initiated MH treatment (primary outcome) (hazard ratio: 1.09, 95% CI: 0.76-1.57), representing no between-group differences. In contrast, veterans receiving veteran peer motivational coaching achieved significantly greater improvements in depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and cannabis use scores, quality of life domains, and adoption of some self-care strategies than controls (secondary outcomes). Qualitative data revealed that veterans who received veteran peer motivational coaching may no longer have perceived a need for MH treatment.

Conclusions: Among veterans with MH problems using predominantly rural VA community clinics, telephone peer motivational coaching did not enhance MH treatment engagement, but instead had positive effects on MH symptoms, quality of life indicators, and use of self-care strategies.

Keywords: health services research; mental health; motivational interviewing; peer interventions; rural veterans.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Mentoring*
  • Quality of Life
  • Telephone
  • Veterans*