Community Circles of Support for Veterans’ Families: Strengthening Relationships after Returning From War
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Returning war veterans without strong social support networks may find themselves isolated and at high risk for homelessness. Strong social networks can make the difference between a life in the community or being out on the streets. Community Circles of Support for Veterans’ Families (CCSVF) is an innovative new demonstration project designed to address the needs of veterans and their families. CCSVF includes evidence based clinical interventions to help strengthen relationships among the men and women who serve our nation and their families.
Military families face drastic changes in their family structure and support systems when spouses and family members are deployed. Women who are part of Community Circles of Support for Veterans’ Families talk about depression, stress, and anxiety. The holidays are particularly tough for spouses facing questions like, “how can I ‘put on’ Christmas alone and make this time special for my children?” These and other experiences related to deployment of a parent cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. “I watched my children open their gifts and had no one to share the experience with,” offered one woman. Others talked about feeling a lack of support.
Community Circles of Support for Veterans’ Families (CCSVF) is a project of The National Center on Family Homelessness (NCFH), with funding from the Walmart Foundation. CCSVF is a comprehensive project designed to address the needs of veterans and their families. CCSVF aims to improve family support and functioning. The ultimate goal of the initiative is to support veterans as they reintegrate into civilian life and to prevent interpersonal violence, family separation, and homelessness.
The project runs two demonstration sites. One site is in San Diego, California and the other is in Eugene, Oregon. Both are funded by the Walmart Foundation. A third demonstration site operates in Mclean County, Illinois, funded by Welcome Back Veterans, an initiative of Major League Baseball and the McCormick Foundation. In 2010, a fourth site will be launched in California with funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation.
The goals of the multi-site project are to:
Community Circles of Support for Veterans’ Families uses a unique blend of four key program components to meet these needs:
- Enhance relationships between returning veterans and their family members;
- Strengthen connections among veterans’ families;
- Train service providers in specialized programming; and
- Educate the broader community about the experiences of veterans and their families.
- Special group therapy for veterans’ families. The therapy group is offered to family pairs that include a veteran with a traumatic stress-related disorder. The group is designed to improve traumatic stress-related symptoms and relationship functioning. The group therapy includes education about the connections between stress disorders and relationship difficulties, conflict management strategies. The therapy seeks to improve communication skills.
- A community awareness campaign. The campaign is designed to increase public awareness about the experiences of veterans and their family members. It includes short workshops, lectures, and discussion groups. The events are targeted to veterans and their families, providers, community agencies, and the public.
- Traumatic stress and its impact on veterans and their families;
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and its effects;
- The impact of TBI on family members;
- The effects of trauma and familial disruptions on children; and
- General education on the military culture and needs of returning veterans.
Specialized trainings for providers. The project works to educate community social services providers about the specific service needs of veterans and their families. Providers are trained in specialized interventions. At each CCSVF site, clinicians are trained in the CCSVF specialized group therapy approach for returning veterans with PTSD/TBI and their partners.
Peer networking to help foster community among veterans’ families. CCSVF includes activities designed to foster peer networking at each site. They include peer-to-peer counseling, drop-in center activities, and recreational events. Activities offer opportunities for veterans’ families to have fun, express their frustrations, share their experiences, and relate to peers who understand what they are going through.
In times of crisis, family, friends, service providers, and community supports can buoy us up. Without a social support network, a person has nowhere to turn for financial or emotional support.
Projects like CCSVF are especially important as the military, Veterans’ Administration (VA), and community-based service delivery infrastructures are increasingly stretched thin. CCSVF provides additional resources and capacity to meet the needs of recent veterans. Additionally, CCSVF serves the whole family. Parents, siblings, caregivers, spouses, significant others, and children play important roles in the successful reintegration of recent veterans back into communities.
In Eugene, Oregon, this is measured in smiles. Describing the CCSVF group therapy participants, the CCSVF Project Director shares, “All the veterans were recent service members and their partners. Many of the couples felt exhausted and overwhelmed. Some had autistic children with high needs. The parents are just exhausted. At the beginning, there was a lot of sadness in the room. But by the end, there were many smiles in the room.”
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