VA Maryland Health Care System
VA Employee Honored at White House
(Perry Point, Md.) Thomas Cousar, a U.S. Army Veteran and Peer Specialist at the Perry Point Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, recently traveled to the White House to join Cecil County Public Library staff as a recipient of the 2015 Institute of Museum and Library Services National Medal, the highest honor for libraries and museums who make a difference in the lives of families, children, and communities across the country.
Cousar and the Cecil County library staff were amongst ten honorees selected from areas throughout the country who have demonstrated a core commitment to public service through innovative programs and active partnerships. The Cecil County library staff, permitted to select one community representative to attend the ceremony, chose Cousar because of his dedication to life-long learning, hard work and leadership with his peers that has enabled him to fully capitalize on the many educational and workforce opportunities provided at the Cecil County Public Library.
"I am still savoring what I describe as the White House moment," said Cousar when he describes his feelings about meeting First Lady Michelle Obama and joining Cecil County library staff to receive the national library medal. "I am honored to be part of this recognition and accept it on behalf of my fellow Veterans in recovery who continue to gain valuable skill sets offered by our local library branch," he added.
"We are very proud of the Veterans in our community, and it's been our privilege to expand their access to library resources, technologies and classes. By listening to Veterans, working with partners like the Perry Point VA Medical Center and offering convenient class times, together we have created a formula for success," echoed Denise Davis, director and Morgan Miller, assistant director for Public Services for the Cecil County Public Library. They both agree that Cousar's accomplishments highlight the opportunities available to all ages and backgrounds at the Cecil County Public Library.
Nearly four years ago, while struggling with homelessness and unemployment, Cousar sought help from the Perry Point VA Medical Center to get his life back on track. As part of developing a recovery plan, Cousar participated in life skills and wellness classes at Perry Point's Psychosocial Rehabilitation Recovery Center (PRRC) that included computer classes offered at the Perryville Library Branch. After successfully completing the classes, Cousar applied for and was selected as a Peer Specialist at the Perry Point VA Medical Center. As part of his duties, Cousar assists Veterans who participate in the PRRC to get connected with weekly technology instruction and workforce development classes at the Perryville Branch Library, the same classes that have enabled him to enrich his life.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to hiring Peer Specialists to work in VA mental health programs. These Peer Specialists are Veterans who are actively engaged in their own mental health recovery and have received specialized training to help others with some of the same conditions to identify and achieve specific life and recovery goals. The program was founded on the key principles of respect, shared empowerment and mutual agreement of what is helpful; it is a process dedicated to promoting empowerment and self-determination in the service of recovery for Veterans. "Mr. Cousar's recognition at the national medal ceremony is a testament not only to his own recovery but how mental health care continues to be transformed in the VA. Peer specialists like Mr. Cousar play a vital role in inspiring hope and offering support to Veterans embarking on their own recovery journey toward living a meaningful life in the community," said Dr. Jason Peer, local recovery coordinator for the VA Maryland Health Care System.
"The Peer Support Program and the partnership between the Cecil County Public Library and the Perry Point VA Medical Center exemplify the military ethos of service to others that Veterans carry throughout their lives," said Dr. Adam M. Robinson, Jr., acting Director of the VA Maryland Health Care System. "Mr. Cousar's recovery story, his use of community resources and engagement with the Perryville Library Branch, and his desire to help his fellow Veterans achieve life and recovery goals is truly inspirational," he added.