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Understanding the Military Experience
Recovery & Serious Mental Illness Mini-Clinic
  • Recovery & SMI Basics
  • Strengths Based Assessment
  • Action Planning
  • Referring to VA
  • Online Resources
  • Cool Tool

Recovery & Serious Mental Illness

Mental health recovery is a process of change through which individuals improve their health and wellness, live a self-directed life, and strive to reach their full potential. (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA))

Within the context of this Directive, Serious Mental Illness (SMI) refers to an American Psychiatric Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) Axis I disorder resulting in significant functional impairment and/or disruption in major activities of daily living. This typically includes schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, bipolar disorder, major depression, and severe Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans with other DSM Axis I diagnoses may also be included in this domain, usually in conjunction with a DSM Axis V Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) Scale score of 50 or lower.

What is Recovery Oriented Care?

Recovery oriented care is patient centered care and can help individuals living with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) move beyond managing symptoms of mental illness and towards improved life satisfaction and quality of life. In the VA, recovery oriented care is Veteran-directed which means the Veteran is actively engaged throughout the treatment planning and recovery process. Through the Recovery Support Strategic Initiative, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has delineated four major dimensions that are essential to a life in recovery:

  • Health: overcoming or managing one's disease(s) as well as living in a physically and emotionally healthy way
  • Home: a stable and safe place to live
  • Purpose: meaningful daily activities, such as a job, school, volunteerism, family caretaking, or creative endeavors, and the independence, income and resources to participate in society
  • Community: relationships and social networks that provide support, friendship, love, and hope

Just like physical health, mental health is important at every stage of life and is essential to overall health. Our mental health helps to determine how we adapt to a range of demands, relate to others and make choices. Recognizing one's strengths and having access to the resources necessary to engage in one's recovery journey is important to all individuals.

Learn More About the Components of Recovery Based Care:

Veteran Stories:

Visit the Make the Connection website to listen to Veterans discuss their experiences with Serious Mental Illness and related difficulties.

Strength Based Assessment

First Step in Recovery Planning - Understanding the Client's Strengths:

Taking a strengths-based approach to psychological assessment means identifying and prioritizing a client's positive abilities and resources within the assessment process. The assessment process is Veteran directed and he or she remains an active participant throughout. For example, the Veteran engages with the clinician in the process of identifying his or her strengths. Listed below are resources to support the integration of Veteran directed strengths based assessment into one's practice.

Action Planning

Treatment planning in the context of recovery oriented care means attending to whole health and wellness. This includes consideration of each Veteran's social engagement, spirituality, relationships, and community engagement.

Recovery action planning is goal oriented. The components of a recovery action plan include:

  • Collaborative assessment of each Veteran's strengths, resources, and goals
  • Veteran directed planning: the goals are established and written in the language of the Veteran
  • Shared decision-making: collaboratively determining steps towards or actions directly relevant to each Veteran's client's goals and concerns
  • Crisis planning

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Tools:

Peer Support:

Many Veterans find that that peer support is crucial to recovery. Peer support is important in conveying information, providing support, facilitating skills building, improving social networks, and empowers individual's to engage successfully in their recovery journey. Please see the following links for peer support information and resources:

  • Best Practices Identified for Peer Support Programs: White paper from the Defense Centers of Excellence (DCoe) for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Vet to Vet: This is an organization of Veterans who have been consumers of VA mental health programs. They provide trainings on peer counseling to Veterans and guidance on establishing peer support programs.

Self-help Treatment & Recovery Resources for Clients:

Referring to VA

In order to support the rehabilitation and recovery of every Veteran with a mental illness, VA has identified recovery as a guiding principle for its entire mental health service delivery system. Recovery is a journey that involves developing hope, self-direction, empowerment, respect and peer support.

Mental Health Service Delivery at VA Medical Centers and Outpatient Clinics emphasizes recovery-oriented Psychosocial Rehabilitation. Such programs and services for Veterans with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) often include:

  • Resources for family involvement and engagement
  • Intensive Case Management
  • Peer Counseling
  • Social Skills Training
  • Wellness Management and Recovery
  • Evidence-based psychotherapies

Visit the VA Recovery Services in Mental Health website to learn more about these services

Connect to Services at Your Local VA Medical Center or Vet Center:

  • VA Program Locator: The program locator can help you find your local VA Medical Center.
  • Vet Center: Eligible Veterans can also find support and resources at Readjustment Counseling Centers. To learn more about the services provided at these centers please see their website.

Online Resources

Practitioner Resources:

Consumer Resources:

Additional Online Resources and Organizations:

Cool Tool

Start Moving Forward:

Moving Forward is a free, on-line educational and life coaching program that teaches Problem Solving skills to help one to better handle life's challenges. It is designed to be especially helpful for Veterans, Military Service Members and their families. However, Moving Forward teaches skills that can be useful to anyone with stressful problems.

The Start Moving Forward website can be found at: