Loyola Marymount University expanded its successful Vet2Peer certificate program Aug. 20, 2022, to include a cohort of 25 military veterans residing in Orange County. Offered by LMU Extension, Vet2Peer is LMU’s training and job placement program for military veterans who want to support their peers facing mental health, alcohol, and substance misuse challenges and those at increased risk for homelessness. The program is taught by Professor Alex Ortega, a veteran and current peer counselor who resides in Orange County.
Since 2019, LMU has provided grant-funded scholarships to train military veterans in Los Angeles to become peer counselors in LMU’s Vet2Peer program, with courses that focus on crisis management, suicide prevention, cultural competencies, and wellness planning. The project manager for LMU’s Vet2Peer certificate program is Elizabeth Tobias, supervised by Diana Luna, director of LMU Extension. Classroom space has been donated by the Tierney Center for Veterans Services in Tustin.
In the past three years, more than 200 military veterans in Los Angeles County (70 percent self-identifying as students of color) have successfully completed this 80-hour training program and earned a “Peer Specialist for Veterans” certificate from LMU. In partnership with U.S.VETS, the LMU program has placed 80 percent of its graduates in peer roles in veteran-serving organizations, government agencies, community health clinics, recovery centers, and housing service providers. “LMU’s Vet2Peer program prepares students to help their fellow veterans. They are deeply respected members of our community, living the LMU mission,” said David Sapp, dean of Graduate Education.
LMU Extension is one of 21 organizations statewide to be selected as a peer specialist training provider to support the peer certification program established under California SB 803. Starting July 1, 2022, LMU students in the Vet2Peer program became eligible to receive $1,600 peer-training scholarship vouchers from the California Mental Health Services Authority.
Los Angeles is home to more than 260,000 military veterans, the largest concentration in the United States. Veterans are overrepresented in the region’s homeless population, face challenges related to health and employment, and account for 11 percent of Californians who die by suicide. Supported by $1M in grant funding from California’s Department of Health Care Access and Information, LMU is attempting to help alleviate veterans’ challenges.
LMU Extension offers more than 150 workforce training programs approved by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act for those receiving California Training Benefits.