Practical and Emotional Peer Support Tailored for Life's Challenges: Personalized Support for Progress Randomized Clinical Pilot Trial in a Veterans Health Administration Women's Clinic

Mil Med. 2022 Jun 10:usac164. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac164. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Women Veterans experience a broad range of stressors (e.g., family, relationship, and financial) and high rates of mental health and physical health conditions, all of which contribute to high levels of stress. Personalized Support for Progress (PSP), an evidence-based intervention, is well suited to support women Veterans with high stress as it involves a card-sort task to prioritize concerns as well as pragmatic and emotional support to develop and implement a personalized plan addressing those concerns. Our aims were to explore the population and context for delivery and evaluate the feasibility, acceptability, and utility of PSP delivered by a peer specialist to complement existing services in a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Women's Wellness Center.

Materials and methods: This randomized controlled pilot trial compared treatment as usual plus PSP to treatment as usual and used the a priori Go/No-Go criteria to establish success for each outcome. We interviewed staff regarding the population and delivery context at a VHA Women's Wellness Center and analyzed interviews using a rapid qualitative approach. For the rapid qualitative analysis, we created templated summaries of each interview to identify key concepts within each a priori theme, reviewed each theme's content across all interviews, and finally reviewed key concepts across themes. We evaluated feasibility using recruitment and retention rates; acceptability via Veteran satisfaction, working relationship with the peer, and staff satisfaction; and utility based on the proportion of Veterans who experienced a large change in outcomes (e.g., stress, mental health symptoms, and quality of life). The Syracuse VA Human Subjects Institutional Review Board approved all procedures.

Results: Staff interviews highlight that women Veterans have numerous unmet social needs and concerns common among women which increase the complexity of their care; call for a supportive, consistent, trusting relationship with someone on their health care team; and require many resources (e.g., staff such as social workers, services such as legal support, and physical items such as diapers) to support their needs (some of which are available within VHA but may need support for staffing or access, and some of which are unavailable). Feasibility outcomes suggest a need to modify PSP and research methods to enhance intervention and assessment retention before the larger trial; the recruitment rate was acceptable by the end of the trial. Veteran acceptability of PSP was high. Veteran outcomes demonstrate promise for utility to improve stress, mental health symptoms, and quality of life for women Veterans.

Conclusions: Given the high acceptability and promising outcomes for utility, changes to the design to enhance the feasibility outcomes which failed to meet the a priori Go/No-Go criteria are warranted. These outcomes support future trials of PSP within VHA Women's Wellness Centers.