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Marriage Education Retreats Helping Veteran Couples Adjust to Family Life Post Deployment


Marriage education programs are becoming increasingly important to helping returning veterans strengthen family life after combat deployment. Veterans Administration and Pentagon officials are encouraging efforts to expand evidence-based programs nationwide. A training next month in San Diego will prepare Chaplains and behavioral health specialists from more than a dozen states to lead retreats for veteran couples throughout the country.

VA Chaplains Training in San Diego Next Month to
Expand Marriage Enrichment Program Nationwide

Chaplains, counselors, social workers and other behavioral health specialists from Veterans Administration Medical Centers in more than a dozen states will train in San Diego next month to bring evidence-based marriage education programs to veteran couples impacted by combat deployment.

military couple embraceThe VA professionals will be learning to replicate an experiential, educational program for returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans developed in 2009 by the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in collaboration with the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center and Morehouse School of Medicine.

Seth Eisenberg, President and CEO of PAIRS Foundation, said the workshops have been effective helping couples impacted by combat deployment strengthen attachment and bonding through skills training to enhance communication, emotional understanding and expression, empathy, and healthy conflict resolution.

“The course is proving itself to be a highly cost-effective, powerful approach to helping military, guard, reserve, and veteran couples strengthen marriages, families, and more positively respond to other supportive services,” Eisenberg said.

Earlier this year, the San Diego VA Healthcare System was awarded a grant to conduct the four-day PAIRS professional training and provide a series of weekend retreats for couples based on the impact of the program at Charlie Norwood, which was recognized by the VA as “Best Practice” in Marriage Enrichment.

Chaplain Ron Craddock, Charlie Norwood’s Chief of Chaplain Services, said the retreats are changing the lives of returning combat veterans and family members. Chaplain Craddock and other members of his team will be assisting at the San Diego training to help expand the program nationwide.

In an invitation to national VA professionals to participate in the training, which will take place June 1-4 at the Paradise Point Resort, Chaplain Dick Millspaugh, Chief of Chaplain Services at the VA San Diego Healthcare System, stressed the impact Chaplains have seen on family life as a result of OEF/OIF deployments. He encouraged VA professionals to help couples at a critical time in their relationships.

Dr. Mitchell Tepper of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine helped launch pilot programs in Augusta, Georgia and is conducting research.

“PAIRS systematically works toward developing participants’ emotional literacy, including the capacity for vulnerability and empathy that is often impaired after combat deployment. We have seen remarkable results through tears and testimony from the veterans and spouses who participate,” Dr. Tepper said.

Laurie Ott, Executive Director of the CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, was one of the program’s early supporters.

“PAIRS is exactly what we were looking for in terms of real relationship skills for combat-returned and wounded warriors and their spouses,” she said. “Our survey before and after PAIRS shows a profound impact on both couples’ perception of their relationship and hope for the future … helping our heroes and their families reconnect after combat, and giving them the skills to improve their relationships and communication.”

Lieutenant General Jeffrey A. Sorenson, the Department of the Army Staff’s Chief Information Officer, is a strong advocate.

“PAIRS is a comprehensive and holistic approach to teaching couples how to share intimate feelings, conversations, and beliefs.  The course helps couples learn how to deal with the constant stress of living together in environments that place enormous stress on daily engagements,” General Sorenson said.  He added, “My wife and I would not be as happy or content as we are today with our current marriage without the work of [PAIRS Founder] Lori Gordon and the PAIRS course … If there was the possibility that we could … proliferate the PAIRS course by significant orders of magnitude, this world would be a much better place!”

Eisenberg said behavioral health specialists and others serving returning OIF/OEF veterans are strongly encouraged to participate. Continuing education credits are available for psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists, and counselors participating in the 32-hour certification training.

“It’s up to each of us to keep our nation’s sacred trust to our veterans and their families,” Eisenberg said. “Participants will learn practical skills and strategies that contribute to the foundation of the lives of returning combat veterans. For each of them, their loved ones, and their children, it’s urgent we do all we can to make a positive, lasting contribution to their lives.”

For more information, visit or call (877) PAIRS-4U (724 7748) ext. 802.

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