AUSTIN, Texas – After years of continuous war, multiple deployments and barriers to accessing targeted and effective programming, U.S. military and veteran families face a diverse set of needs, including addressing the effects of military trauma, stresses on the family from prolonged separation, and the challenges of transitioning from military to civilian life.
Families seeking support for these demands can find help through the new Institute for Military & Veteran Family Wellness – a joint effort between the Steve Hicks School of Social Work and the Department of Psychiatry of Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. The institute addresses these needs by evaluating, developing and implementing programs that put the needs of military and veteran families at the forefront.
“Veterans’ challenges are their families’ challenges, whether it’s learning to live with a severe injury, coping with mental health issues, or adjusting to civilian life,” said institute director and social work professor Elisa Borah. “It is often spouses, in fact, who encourage the veteran or service member to seek treatment to save their marriage or improve family dynamics.”
Anne Jackson is one of those spouses of the 1.7 million military veterans in Texas and 40,000 living in and around the Austin area. After her husband MJ came back from his second deployment to Afghanistan, he was detached and easily angered, which put the whole family on edge. Jackson started seeing a counselor and eventually pursuaded her husband to receive counseling services, too.
“We military families don’t just need support when our [partners] are gone,” Jackson said. “We need it when they are back, too. And it’s not all parades and rainbows and YouTube clips where everyone is crying because they are so happy. It’s a lot of hard work.”
Jackson and her veteran husband joined one of the institute’s programs and found talking to other couples going through similar experiences to be very helpful.
“Being able to talk to people who went through what I went through provides a lot of healing. It reminds you that you are not crazy, that you are not alone,” Jackson said.
All institute programs are research-based, developed in collaboration with health care providers and participants, and are offered free of charge. The institute works closely with community stakeholders to provide vital input on its approach and offerings. The institute’s feature programs include:
- The Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group Program, which offers a safe space for spouses and committed partners of veterans to explore the unique experiences and challenges they face through online and in-person peer-support groups.
- The Veteran Spouse Network – a network of veteran spouses who offer each other online and in-person peer support. This network offers opportunities for spouses to connect, share resources and offer support and guidance with other veteran spouses and committed partners within their communities and throughout the state.
- The Veteran Couples Connect Program, which is a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment (PTSD) program for couples where at least one member is experiencing PTSD. During eight weekly sessions, veteran and active-duty couples learn strategies to reduce the impact of PTSD symptoms on their relationship.
The institute also conducts research to evaluate existing programs, to better understand crucial issues faced by military and veteran families, and to create new modes of support for military families. Additionally, team members offer technical assistance and evidence-based training efforts known to increase cultural competency and best practices among health care organizations serving veteran and military communities.
“There’s a huge opportunity to better meet the health needs of Central Texas’ veterans,” said Dr. Michael Pignone, assistant dean for veterans affairs and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Dell Med. “Veterans and their families have a wide range of both medical and social needs that we must better understand, and the institute is helping to advance that knowledge,” he said.
Dell Med’s focus on care for veterans also includes a partnership with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System to provide better access and more streamlined care for local veterans through a primary care residency track and an inpatient referral system to Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas.