A couple with their two children look at the sea on the beach.
Mental Health and Wellness
Family and Couples
  • Family and Couples Basics
  • Educational Materials and Programs
  • VA Healthcare Services for Couples and Families
  • Online Resources
  • Cool Tool

Family and Couples Basics

"We must be there for the military families whose loved ones are in harm’s way – for they serve as well."

(President Barack Obama, May 25, 2013, The White House)

a child who is in the middle of her partents is lift by their parents' hands.

Quick Facts about Military and Veteran Families and Couples:

  • A substantial portion of Veterans who served in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom are older, married (over 50%), and have children.
  • Deployments can be challenging to families and partners of Service Members in a number of ways. These challenges can include loss of income and childcare and changes to family roles while the Service Member is deployed. Partners of Service Members have reported deployment related loneliness, anxiety, and depression, and children demonstrate more behavioral problems during their parents' deployment (Steelfisher, Zaslavsky, & Blendon, 2008 in Makin-Byrd et al., 2011).
  • Following deployment, most military families will adjust successfully and their children will be healthy and resilient (McFarlane, 2009).
  • However, during behavioral health evaluations of newly returned Veterans, family issues are commonly reported (78%, Sayers, Farrow, Ross, & Oslin, 2009). Veterans with PTSD or depression are even more likely to endorse family readjustment issues.
  • Parents or siblings of Service Members are impacted by the deployment of their child/brother/sister, however, information on the ways in which these family members are impacted is limited.

Involving Families and Couples in Treatment is:
  • … related to improved treatment outcome for many psychological conditions (Falloon, Roncone, Held, Coverdale, and Laidlaw, 2002)
  • … a national priority for Veteran mental health services (VHA Directive 2006-041)

A screen shot of a video-a young veteran talks about how his military experiences affect his relationships with his family.View Veterans’ personal stories of relationships and family.

The experiences of military life can affect Veterans in ways that may impact their relationships. Watch Veterans talk about working through problems with their friends and loved ones and finding solutions that benefit everyone.

Educational Materials

A family picture of An Asian Veteran, his wife and young daughter.Educational materials and programs can provide family members with the information necessary to support the Veteran’s recovery and to effectively partner with their treatment providers. 

The educational topics below include information about:
  • Reintegration following deployment
  • Parenting for Service Members and Veterans
  • Programs to support family members of Veterans

Educational Materials: Family and Couples

Returning from the War Zone: A Guide for Families of Military Personnel
Military family members want to understand what to expect during reintegration following time in a war zone and to help their loved one adapt back to home life. Reintegration is an adjustment for all involved. This guide aims to make this process as smooth as possible.

Deployment Health and Family Readiness Library*
Provides resources on topics related to financial readiness, household & property readiness, legal readiness, personal & family readiness and readiness contacts.

Military Families Knowledge Bank*
Provides resources designed to assist military family members and their health care and service providers.

AfterDeployment, Family and Friendships*
Provides resources to assess and learn relationship skills.

Educational Materials: Parenting

Parenting for Service Members and Veterans
This is a free online parenting course developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Mental Health Services in partnership with the Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2). The course provides military and Veteran parents with information and strategies to improve their parenting skills.

Talk, Listen, Connect: Deployment, Homecoming, Changes
These free outreach kits were developed as a joint effort between VHA, DoD, & Sesame Workshop™. The bilingual educational outreach initiative is designed for Military/Veteran families and their young children and VA has distributed more than 200,000 outreach kits to the VA Medical Centers and Vet Centers. Outreach kits include two Sesame Street DVDs, a magazine for parents and caregivers, a children’s activity poster, Sesame Street postcards, and suggestions for additional resources.

AfterDeployment, Families with Kids
Provides resources to assess deployment-related stress and to help children successfully cope with this stress.

Zero to Three*
Zero to Three's Coming Together Around Military Families initiative works to strengthen the resilience of young children and families who are impacted by deployment-related issues.

Provides up-to-date information about Department of Defense programs serving troops and their families. The Parent Fact Sheets* cover the periods of pre-deployment, deployment, and reunion.

Military Child Education Coalition*
A nonprofit focused on ensuring quality educational opportunities for all military-connected children affected by mobility, family separation, and transition.

Professionally Facilitated Programs for Family Education

The Support and Family Education (SAFE) Program*
This program is an 18 session workshop for adults who care about someone living with a mental illness (including PTSD). Goals of the program include providing opportunities for family members to learn about the symptoms and course of mental illness/PTSD, ask questions and discuss concerns, and receive support from other family members in similar situations. This program mainly covers four areas: 1) Information about various conditions such as PTSD, 2) Skills for family members, 3) The experience of caring about someone living with a mental illness, and 4) Dealing with family, friends and professionals including coping with the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was developed by Dr. Michelle Sherman at the Oklahoma VA/VISN 16 Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center (MIRECC). This program may be available at some but not all VA Medical Centers. Contact your local VA medical center to determine availability.

Operation Enduring Families*
This is a 5-session family education and support program for Veterans who have recently returned from Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) and Operation New Dawn (OND) and their family members developed by Dr. Michelle Sherman at the Oklahoma VA/VISN 16 MIRECC. The purpose of this program is to help the returning Service Member/Veteran adjust to family life and to help family members cope with the significant stressors of deployment and reintegration. Session topics include family relationships, communication and intimacy, anger, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and depression. This program may be available at some but not all VA Medical Centers. Contact your local VA medical center to determine availability.

Peer Facilitated Program for Family Education

The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program (FFEP)
This program was developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It is a 12 week program for family members of individuals with serious mental illness and is taught by trained family members (i.e., peers) using a highly structured/scripted manual. Families receive information on mental illness, treatment, medications, recovery, communication and problem-solving skills.

VHA and NAMI have established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This MOU outlines the collaborative effort between VHA and NAMI and states that the NAMI FFEP program will be offered in at least one VHA facility in each state during the two year period from June 2008 to June 2010.  A second MOU was later developed to reinforce the inclusion of this peer-led training into the continuum of VHA family services, and to serve as a model to continue the implementation of FFEP throughout each state.

VA Healthcare Services for Couples and Families

All VA family services are consistent with a recovery philosophy and provide a continuum of services including:

  • Prevention/family resiliency training
  • Family education/training
  • Marriage and family counseling
a family of four lines up by the corner of a wall.

Family and Couples Services at VA Medical Centers and Clinics Include:

  • Family consultation and family education for Veterans with serious mental illness are provided at VA Medical Centers and certain community based outpatient clinics.
  • Opportunities for these family services must be available to all Veterans with serious mental illness either at VA medical centers, by telemental health, or with community providers through sharing arrangements, contracting, or non-VA fee basis care.
  • Providing evidence-based family and couples treatments is a priority within VA mental health services. Treatments provided may include Integrative Behavioral Couples Therapy (IBCT), Behavioral Couples Therapy for Substance Abuse Disorders (BCT), and Behavioral Family Therapy (BFT) for Serious Psychiatric Disorders. Contact mental health services at your local VA Medical Center or clinic to learn more about what treatments are offered.
  • Discussion of family involvement with the Veteran at least yearly and at inpatient discharge.

Family Member, Couple or Caregiver: Eligibility for VHA Mental Health Services
Available VA services for immediate family members and caregivers include training/education, consultation, and marriage and family counseling as is necessary in connection with treatment. These services are available to the individuals listed below.

  • Members of immediate family or legal guardian of a Veteran.
  • Family caregiver of an eligible Veteran or a caregiver of a covered Veteran (see PL 111-163 for definition of these terms).
  • Individual in whose household an eligible Veteran intends to live.

Connect to Services at Your Local VA Medical Center or Vet Center:

  • VA Program Locator: The program locator can help you find your local VA Medical Center.
  • Vet Center: Eligible Veterans can also find counseling services, support and resources at Readjustment Counseling Centers. To learn more about the services provided at these centers please see their website.

Online VHA Mental Health Resources Available to Families and Couples:

  • Coaching Into Care: A VA program that offers advice on how to best talk to your Veteran about engaging in care. The program offers the following free services: encouragement and information about getting an evaluation and services, referrals to services for Veterans and their family members and family member coaching to motivate Veterans for evaluation/consultation.
  • Moving Forward: This is a free self-guided online resiliency program based on an evidence-based problem-solving training (Nezu and Nezu, 2013). The goal of the program is to enhance effective problem-solving orientations and strategies across a range of issues.

Online Resources

VA and Department of Defense Resources

National Center for PTSD: Family and Friends
The National Center for PTSD: Family and Friends section of the National Center for PTSD website provides information about the effects of trauma on families, children, relationships, and communities. You can find information on: Helping a Family Member Who Has PTSD; Children Coping with Deployment; Children and Teens: Web Resources; and more.

Make the Connection

Visit the Make the Connection website to view stories from Veterans’ family members who have supported their Veterans and helped them find resources for overcoming mental health challenges.

Make the Connection is a one-stop resource where Veterans and their families and friends can privately explore information on mental health issues, hear fellow Veterans and their families share their stories of resilience, and easily find and access the support and resources they need.

Watch video testimonials from families and friends of Veterans, hear how they overcame mental health challenges, and find information and resources for support.

Coaching into Care

A VA program that offers advice on how to best talk to your Veteran about engaging in care. The program offers the following free services: encouragement and information about getting an evaluation and services, referrals to services for Veterans and their family members and family member coaching to motivate Veterans for evaluation/consultation.

Military OneSource
Military OneSource: A 24/7 Resource for Military Members, Spouses & Families*: Military OneSource is provided by the Department of Defense at no cost to active duty, Guard and Reserve (regardless of activation Status) and their families. It is a virtual extension of installation services. Visit today or call 1-800-342-9647.

Other National and Community Resources

Families for Depression Awareness
Families for Depression Awareness* helps families recognize and cope with depressive disorders to help people recover and prevent suicides.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) webpage for military families and children provides links to resources on the stressors facing military families and children. These resources may be useful for educators, military family members, and mental health and medical professionals.

Military Families Podcast Series and Webinars
A series of 20 short podcasts called, “Essentials for Those Who Care for Military Children and Families.” In addition, a Master Speaker webinar series on topics including Community Provider collaboration and support to Military Service Member Families, U.S. Army Culture, and the Combat Operational Stress Model (Log-in required) from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Center for Deployment Psychology

This webpage from the Center for Deployment Psychology  provides information and online courses pertaining to military families and children.

Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

SAMHSA provides a webinar on services for military families. It describes the challenges facing military personnel, Veterans, and their families, the mental health and substance abuse support available from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and civilian health systems, and the need to expand family-centered services.

Give an Hour

Give an Hour* is a non-profit organization that provides free mental health services to US military personnel and families affected by the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Local Community Resource Finder

Joint Service Support: Local Community Resource Finder*: A local community resource finder that can help you locate a Family Program Team, Transition Assistance Advisor and more (serves all components and branches of the military and their family members).

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA)

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA)*: A public voice for caregivers. Their programs (information, education, services, research and advocacy) support and sustain the important work of families nationwide caring for loved ones with chronic, disabling health conditions.

two families are illustrated by abstract figures.

Cool Tool

Parenting to Go Mobile Application
This mobile application helps Veterans and Service Members strengthen their parenting skills and reconnect with their children. Free from: iTunes (iOS)*.

screen shots of the Family to Go mobile application