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U.S. Navy Veteran turns pain into purpose, earns Salisbury VA Peer of the Year Award

Steven Strong, center, poses for a photo with colleagues after being named Salisbury VA Health Care System's Peer Specialist of the Year.

Looking at Steven Strong, a peer support specialist with the Salisbury VA Health Care System, you would never know the challenges he has faced in his life.

A naturally positive and upbeat individual with a winning smile, the U.S. Navy Veteran has battled post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and alcoholism.

Like his name, Mr. Strong is not easily broken. Not one to let his experiences be in vain, he has dedicated his life and career to helping and serving other Veterans as a peer specialist at the VA's Charlotte Health Care Center - highlighted after recently being named the Salisbury VA Peer Specialist of the Year.

A peer specialist is a Veteran with mental health experience – actively engaged in his or her own recovery – that has been trained and certified to help other Veterans.

These specialists – which can be found at both a VA facility and out in the community – are aligned under the Mental Health and Behavioral Science services.

Though he is honored by the recognition, Mr. Strong stressed that his work is a team effort. He added that without the clinicians and other staff members, his success would not be possible.

“Consistent. Steven has been consistently serving Veterans, day in and day out,” said Dr. Shanyn Aysta Isaac, a psychologist and peer support program manager. “He advocates for Veterans to recover, and he shows up consistently where he is needed. He lives out the ICARE Values.”

Born in Kentucky, and raised in Los Angeles, Mr. Strong joined the Navy at the age of 19.

During his time as an active-duty Sailor, his alcohol use increased due to traumatic experiences while serving, including the death of a close friend; his experience during the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon; and while serving in the Persian Gulf in the early 1990s.

He was honorably discharged after 11 and a half years of service.

Unfortunately, the alcohol abuse continued until what Mr. Strong recalls as divine intervention in a moment of clarity in the summer of 2009. He was later diagnosed with PTSD and soon learned skills to help manage his mental health.

Mr. Strong’s dream to work for the VA came true in August 2015, as he started a position in the call center. He later became a peer specialist in 2017 and earned a bachelor’s degree from American Public University that same year. In 2021, he received a master’s degree in military social work from Walden University and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.

Faith is at the forefront of Mr. Strong’s journey.

“God is the central figure of my life today and when I reflect on my journey, there is no doubt that he provided the path for me to be able to be of service to Veterans and receive support in return,” said Mr. Strong.

A husband to the love of his life Crystal, the Navy Veteran also makes sure to take time to read, pray, meditate, exercise, and travel. He sees those activities as self-care tools to recharge and in return help him to do his best to assist others.

“Serving Veterans is an honor.”


To learn more about the VA Peer Specialist Program, please visit or email the Office of Strategic Communications & Public Affairs at

At the Salisbury VA Health Care System, our mission is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors. Learn more at

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