After 13 years at war, the U.S. faces unprecedented challenges in caring for military service members and their families. Numerous programs address the mental and physical health needs of veterans, but few attend to the needs and experiences of their family members. In particular, spouses of veterans’ concerns about and needs for mental health have received sparse research attention.
Veteran spouses often bear the burden as caregivers to veterans, and report feeling that they and their families are left out of efforts that support veterans. Veterans’ families face a diverse pool of concerns including secondary effects of service members’ posttraumatic stress disorder, persistent family functioning deficits and parenting challenges due to prolonged separation, readjustment problems, and attachment disorders as well as transition challenges faced by children. Given the substantial burden faced by military families after prolonged war and multiple deployments, access to targeted and effective programming informed by research is greatly needed.
The Veteran Spouse Network (VSN) project will meet this need by providing a platform for communication and research action to enable veteran spouses to inform, evaluate and advocate for use of effective mental health care practices in their communities. Veteran spouses will develop supportive peer relationships and become engaged stakeholders in research that attends to the needs of their families. The two-year project will be carried out in three phases including 1) network development, 2) network training, and 3)research engagement.
New members can also join and stay connected by visiting the network’s Facebook page.
In phase 1, recruitment of veteran spouses will occur through partnerships with existing organizations. Regional meetings across the state will be held for members to discuss the structure of the network and how it can provide information best suited for their needs. A webpage will be created, and member participation will be facilitated through online network meetings, webpage polling questions, monthly webinars, and the creation of a steering committee. In phase 2, webinars will be utilized to train VSN members on a variety of research and research methods topics. Elisa Borah, a researcher at the School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Excellence in Mental Health, will provide the trainings, and member feedback will be highly influential in the development process. In phase 3, clinical research investigators engaged in research on mental health treatments and programs for veteran families will join VSN via webinar to converse with veteran spouses. Discussions will allow researchers to obtain valuable feedback from veteran spouses, and promote confidence in veteran spouses regarding participation in research. Throughout the project a variety of measures will be obtained to inform a project evaluation.
The Veteran Spouse Network project will engage in participatory action research in an intricate and large-scale manner. It will help to create a robust, statewide network of military veteran spouses, and foster relationships among veteran spouses, community providers and research investigators in a way that allows veteran spouses to engage in research efforts in meaningful ways.