Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center
Marriage Enrichment Retreats Assist Returning Veterans and Spouses
The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in collaboration with the Central Savannah River Area (CSRA) Wounded Warrior Care Project of Augusta have joined forces to address the disturbing number of divorces among returning Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) combat veterans. Recent data collected demonstrates that 70 percent of combat veterans are experiencing marital problems with 20 percent of them deciding to divorce before they return from theater. In response to these distressing statistics, the Chaplain Service established a team made up of chaplains, social workers and psychologists to develop the OEF/OIF Combat Veteran/Spouse Marriage Enrichment Retreat Program. This program is designed to host two and three day marriage enrichment retreats at area retreat centers. Thanks to the local nonprofit organization, CSRA Wounded Warrior Care Project, there is no cost to the veteran/spouse. The retreats are conducted by team members that have been certified through the PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) Foundation. Instructors teach the couples ways to improve communication skills, relationship skills and emotional literacy skills. The team screens couples that they feel will benefit the most from such retreats and encourages them to attend. The curriculum covered in each retreat includes a treasure chest of tools that have proven helpful to thousands of couples assisting them in nurturing and rekindling relationships. Retreats are specifically designed to address stress in a relationship; styles of communication; techniques on how to take a daily temperature reading of the relationship; provide talking tips to discuss issues between each other in a non-threatening manner; create a love bank by making deposits of positive words, time together, and demonstrating affection and touch skills; and how to better control anger in relationships.
The goal is to offer three to four retreats per year with the ability to reach out to 68 couples within VISN 7. Couples are accepted for the retreats from as far away as Birmingham, Alabama and Charleston, South Carolina. Each retreat takes months of planning and preparation so selection and reservation of a retreat site must be made months in advance. A "pre-retreat survey" and "post-retreat survey" are offered to each couple that attends in order to ensure the mission of the retreats remains on target. As a result of feedback from the retreat surveys, a follow-up support group called The New Normal was established. This support group meets once a month in a local church and provides an evening meal and allows for fellowship time before the group session begins. Two social workers and a chaplain make up the team for the support group. The focus is on much of the training that the couples went through during the retreat, refreshing techniques and addressing special needs/issues that the couples might be having.
It is hoped that this Best Practice program will be introduced to other VA Medical Centers. The Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center has already hosted the first ever PAIRS Train the Trainer program. For more information on this unique and innovative program, contact Chaplain Ron Craddock, Chief, Chaplain Service, (706) 733-0188, extension 6118.