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PAIRS Collaboration with VA Recognized with Prestigious 2012 Spirit of Planetree Award


PAIRS Foundation’s collaborative program with the Department of Veterans Affairs was recognized Wednesday with the prestigious “Spirit of Planetree” award for strengthening relationships among family, friends and social supports as a critical component of patient-centered care and improving outcomes for Veterans impacted by post traumatic stress.

Chaplain Dick Millspaugh Reaches Out
Chaplain Dick Millspaugh reaches out to participant in PAIRS training.

Importance of Family, Friends and Social Support

San Diego, CA (October 4, 2012) – Purpose Built Families Foundation’s collaborative program with the San Diego VA Healthcare System was recognized this week with the prestigious Spirit of Planetree award.

Jeff Gering
Jeff Gering, Director, VA San Diego Healthcare System

In their award announcement, Planetree recognized the VA San Diego Healthcare System for assembling “a team of helping professionals to offer healing tools to relationships that had been damaged by PTSD. These VA Patient-Centered Care grant-funded retreats have served more than 350 couples. Weekend retreats equip Veteran couples with interpersonal relationship skill building in four areas: communication, emotional literacy, conflict resolution and bonding. VA San Diego was asked by the National Office of Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation to expand this best practice program nationally and recently received a $2 million dollar grant to conduct 28 additional VA workshops nationwide.”

Purpose Built Families Foundation CEO Seth Eisenberg said the Planetree recognition is a “testament to the shared vision of Purpose Built Families Foundation and the VA to improving care and outcomes for Veterans.”

“We hope this recognition will encourage similar efforts at VA Medical Centers nationwide as the medical community increasingly embrace the importance of healthy relationships as the foundation of health and healing,” Eisenberg added.

Chaplain Dick Millspaugh, chief of Chaplain Services at the San Diego VA, said, “Military related Post Traumatic Stress not only affects the Veteran, it also affects his or her significant relationships.  Veterans experience increased marital discord, significantly higher divorce rates, and attempt  to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol and drugs.”

“Suicide rates for Veterans are three to four times higher than national average and distressed relationships are a key factor in many suicides,” Chaplain Millspaugh said. To address the challenge, Chaplain Millspaugh assembled a team of helping professionals who became trained as PAIRS Instructors to bring healing to damaged relationships through PAIRS Essentials weekends, which Chaplain Millspaugh’s team called “From Warrior to Soul Mate” to focus on the program’s vision for participating Veteran couples.

PAIRS VA Training Team at PAIRS Veterans Retreat in San Diego
PAIRS/VA Training Team at VA Sponsored  PAIRS “Warrior to Soul Mate Weekend” in San Diego, September 2012.

“These weekend retreats are designed to bring spiritual healing to Veteran couples by improving their ability to express and receive love and bond in a nurturing and healing relationship,” said Chaplain Millspaugh.

“Based on the Purpose Built Families Foundation’s model, couples are helped in three areas:  communication skills, emotional literacy and bonding. Chaplains have partnered with social workers and psychologists to focus on teaching affective, behavioral and cognitive skills that are taught, modeled, and personally coached.”

Chaplain Millspaugh reported the PAIRS retreats have demonstrated an increased perception of positive communication skills of one’s partner from 32% pre-retreat to 78% post-retreat.

“Our participants’ scores for the ‘retreats overall’ and for our instructors rated 4.5 to 4.6 on a 5 point scale, respectively.  Most significantly, at every retreat at least one couple has announced to the group that they were no longer going to divorce after learning and practicing these skills,” Chaplain Millspaugh said.

“We are all very proud of [Chaplain] Dick [Millspaugh],” said Jeff Gering, Director of the VA San Diego Healthcare System. “It is very reassuring to see him obtain the well-earned recognition from the PAIRS Foundation and Planetree as well.”

In Their Own Words

“The exercises between wife and husband (is what I liked best).  It allowed us to learn a new approach to solve our differences and to recognize each others’ needs and wants.”

“These skills will improve our communication by volumes.  We will be able to approach every situation as they arise and be open and discuss them instead of shutting each other out.”

“I loved the instructors.  They were amazing and really are in-tune with helping people.”

“We can talk about our problems before we start screaming at each other.”

“[The information and skills we learned] will be a breakthrough in a long struggle on how to resolve certain situations within our marriage.”

“I will always remember the fair fighting skills and the difference between listening and hearing what my partner has to say.  Having to repeat after him with empathy will definitely keep me from planning my instant defense strategy…Why haven’t I heard of doing this before and what heartache and headache it could have saved me!!”

About Planetree

Founded by a patient in 1978, Planetree has defined what it means to be patient-centered.  Planetree’s philosophy is based on a simple premise: care should be organized first and foremost around the needs of patients.  To understand those needs Planetree turned to the source. Thousands of focus groups—from bedside to boardroom—with patients, long-term care residents, families and professional caregivers across the globe have borne out their needs and desires for a more personalized, humanized and demystified health care experience.

About Purpose Built Families Foundation

Purpose Built Families Foundation evolved out of PAIRS Foundation’s (est. 1983) commitment to making evidence-based relationship skills training widely available on behalf of a safer, saner, more loving world. Purpose Built Families has achieved multi-year CARF accreditation in rapid rehousing, homelessness prevention, and community housing since 2017. The foundation delivers preventative programs to disrupt common contributors to homelessness, addictions and suicide and reparative programs to provide transformational, trauma-informed, compassionate care to people impacted by family and relationship breakdown.


Healthy Marriage Impact Reports, September 2011