Fay VA employee earns VA’s 1st national Peer Award - Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System
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Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System


Fay VA employee earns VA’s 1st national Peer Award

Heather Hennessey inaugural VA National Peer of the Year speaks at podium

Heather Hennessey, inaugural VA National Peer Specialist of the Year

By Jeff Melvin, Fayetteville NC VA Coastal HCS Public Affairs Officer
Monday, October 21, 2019
Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System certified peer support specialist Heather Hennessey is the recipient of the inaugural VA National Peer Specialist of the Year Award.

“Heather’s dedication and outstanding work ethic, combined with her compassion for Veterans, service work in multiple Veterans organizations and volunteer work in the community among various organizations and chapters of national peer support groups including National Alliance of the Mentally Ill, (NAMI), International Association of Peer Supporters (iNAPs) and the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) earned her this national recognition,” said Daniel O’Brien-Mazza, National Director, Peer Support Services, VHA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Services.

O’Brien-Mazza travelled to Fayetteville VA Medical Center Oct. 17 to present Hennessey, a U.S. Army veteran and military spouse, with the award, an engraved plaque, on Global Peer Support Celebration Day.

Hennessey, he said, distinguished herself from the field of 14 other network nominees by not conforming or staying in a narrow, rigid way of just doing what she is supposed to do. award recipient Heather Hennessey and facility, network and national VA leaders pose for a photo op

From left, Daniel O’Brien-Mazza, DeAnne Seekins, Heather Hennessey, and Dan Dücker. Hennessey has earned the first Department of Veterans Affairs National Peer Specialist of the Year. O’Brien-Mazza, Seekins, and Dücker are National Director, Peer Support Services, VHA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Services; VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network (VISN 6) Director; and Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System Executive Director, respectively.

Reading portions of the engraved plaque he presented to her, Mazza-O’Brien said the former military policeman earned recognition for “role modeling that recovery is achievable in a professional, compassionate and dedicated manner while providing peer support to Veterans at the Fayetteville VAMC in VISN 6.”

VISN 6 (Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network) Director DeAnne Seekins, who also attended the ceremony, said, “Peer support is such an important part of what VA does. When you’re a Veteran and you’re going through our mental healthcare system, you’re not always comfortable, right? There’s a lot of anxiety. You’re wondering, ‘Are they giving me the right information? Where do I go? What do I do?’ So, by VA embracing peer support, it’s Veterans helping Veterans. The comfort level, the quality of the healthcare our Veterans receive is second to none. Heather is a great example of what we do and why we do it.”

Coastal Health Care System Executive Director Dan Dücker presented the peer support specialist with his Director’s coin and told Hennessey that in addition to her honor being “a celebration  for you today and good news for Fayetteville, it’s also an opportunity for us here in Fayetteville to springboard this into what can be next related to our peer support program not only from a mental health perspective but for other programs where peers serve as well.” picture of Heather Hennessey receiving congratulations from co-workers and well-wishers

Heather Hennessey accepts congratulations from co-workers and well-wishers

VISN 6’s Chief Mental Health Officer Dr. David Buyck called in to add his voice to the chorus of well-wishers, telling Hennessey her work “embodies the spirt of knowledge, empathy and inexhaustible dedication behind the peer support organization. You not only help Veterans directly but your work influences and helps all providers on the team to be more Veteran and family-centric.

“…Your work and the way you do it, demonstrates everyday how peers are essential in identifying, connecting and motivating Veterans and families in their continual journey to recovery,” Dr. Buyck said.

Ever humble, Hennessey said when her supervisor told her she had been selected Fayetteville VA’s peer specialist of the year and she wanted to submit her for consideration for the network nomination, she thought to herself, ‘I don’t think I have a chance, but I’ll do it because I know peers around this VA are doing amazing things.’

She said she wanted to share her award with all of the Fayetteville VA peer specialists because she couldn’t have done it alone, adding that she had received congratulatory emails from nearly 600 peer specialists across the country.

In addition to thanking her fellow peers, she thanked supervisors, facility leadership, family and the veterans she helps every day. 

“When I meet with them and they say I help them. I tell them how much they help me, too. We’re on that road to recovery together,” Hennessey said.

She urged all attending the ceremony or listening in to put the word out about peer specialists. She commented that it had been a long journey from that point in 2007 when she attempted suicide to today’s event where she was being named Peer Specialist of the Year.

She ended her remarks with a message to peer specialists listening, sharing four things she said she learned over the past year.

  • Self-care –we can’t help others if we don’t take care of ourselves
  • Find a mentor – she said she had two
  • Don’t pass by an opportunity to share the good about VA -- you don’t know who you’re talking to and how that might impact their recovery


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