Strong marriages and families may be the most effective tool for helping Veterans overcome visible and invisible wounds of war. The Veterans Administration is investing millions in new approaches that help loved ones help each other.
by Seth Eisenberg
A new paradigm is emerging among caregivers serving active-duty military and Veteran families struggling with post traumatic stress and other visible and invisible wounds of war. Much of what has long been pathologized and treated by mental health professionals is increasingly recognized as symptomatic of breakdowns that can be addressed through skills training that helps couples help themselves.
Chaplains were among the first to recognize the importance of involving spouses and significant others in efforts to help Veterans recover from the experience of combat deployment. Since 9/11, they’ve sought to counsel and comfort thousands who honorably and courageously completed their military service and then faced seemingly insurmountable challenges restoring love and intimacy within their families. As with many from the generation who served in Vietnam, these breakdowns have led to increased substance abuse and chemical dependencies, more frequent episodes of domestic violence, incarceration, difficulty gaining and sustaining employment, divorce, homelessness, poverty, and, in many tragic cases, suicide.
In August and September, PAIRS Trainer Lauren DelGandio and I had the privilege of training nearly 300 VA and Active-Duty Military Chaplains and Behavioral Health Professionals over four days in San Diego, California, Indianapolis, Indiana and Hampton, Virginia to prepare them offer classes designed to help Veteran couples understand emotions, improve communications, and learn proven techniques for resolving interpersonal conflicts. The training integrates techniques from pioneers in the fields of counseling, psychiatry, and psychology into a nine-hour relationship and marriage education class that helps couples deepen intimacy. Research has shown the program is beneficial for couples experiencing high levels of marital distress, including those on the verge of divorce.
The Veterans Administration Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation Initiative provided a $500,000 grant to provide the trainings and fund weekend retreats for Veteran couples in each of the three cities.
The new approach to helping Veteran couples is also the cornerstone of a $1 million grant program funded through the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program, known as SSVF. VA awarded the grant to a collaboration between PAIRS Foundation and Carrfour Supportive Housing, Florida’s largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for the formerly homeless, to provide classes that strengthen family resiliency as part of a national campaign to end homelessness among Veterans.
These nationally funded programs represent the beginning of a paradigm shift emerging among caregivers serving Veteran families that recognizes that much of what is treated through therapy and other costly individual services is often symptomatic of relationship breakdown that can be effectively addressed through evidence-based skills training for Veterans and their loved ones.
The paradigm shift in treatment continues to gain momentum as the trinity of consciousness, concrete approaches, and confirmation through measurable results replicated coast to coast has consistently shown helping couples help each other is the foundation for supporting Veterans through the healing process from the visible and invisible wounds of war.
Seth Eisenberg is President/CEO of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, a leader in relationship skills training.