Research-based programs to enhance mental health help veterans, their families cope.
By Mark Wheeler, UCLA
A new report evaluating the impact of research-based programs designed to enhance the mental health of military families, has found compelling evidence that such programs help veterans and their families build resilience to cope with the effects of wartime service and combat-related physical and psychological injuries.
The report, issued by the nonprofit RAND Corp., a global think tank, assessed the impact of the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative, a joint project of philanthropic groups and six major academic centers, including the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center, which provide an array of patient care, educational and other services to veterans and their families. The initiative, funded by Major League Baseball Charities and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, was launched in 2008.
Between 2011 and 2013, the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative awarded grants totaling $5.4 million to support returning service members, veterans and their families. During that period, the six academic medical centers received funding. The RAND study found that initiative partners collectively provided screening, referral and treatment services to more than 3,600 individuals with military and veteran affiliations; networked with 188 organizations; and conducted 228 training sessions or workshops to build new skills and capacities among veterans, organizations that serve them, and community-based providers.
The report concluded that the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative could provide a model for similar efforts should federal officials decide to expand privately provided health care as part of its reform of the Veterans Affairs health system.
“Wartime military experience can be psychologically challenging for both service members and their families,” said Dr. Patricia Lester, the Jane and Marc Nathanson Family Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and director of the Nathanson Center. “As a nation, we owe these families the best possible mental health care services, supported by the latest research, to strengthen their ability to cope with the separations, reintegrations and traumatic events. That is what we have built at the Nathanson Center, thanks to the support of the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative.”
The UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center used the financial support from the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative to adapt, evaluate and disseminate innovative programs that decrease the negative effects of deployment among Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and their families. Significant numbers of military personnel who served in those wars suffer from mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress, anxiety, trauma and even traumatic brain injury.
Since 2006, the Nathanson Center has partnered with the U.S. military to provide an array of evidence-informed programs in resiliency training that have touched the lives of thousands of military families facing the challenges of deployment and reintegration. The programs aim to build on strengths and reduce stress through communication, problem-solving skills and proactive strategies that include learning how to recognize and cope with emotional triggers.
Housed within the Semel Institute, the Nathanson Center’s Welcome Back Veterans program works closely with local, state and national military and veteran leadership, community agencies, health and mental health systems, educational institutions and policy-makers. Combining research, practice and innovative technologies, the center develops family and community interventions — including web-based tools, education and training materials — that can be implemented in a variety of contexts. Programs include:
- FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) Family Resilience Training. FOCUS strengthens families and couples facing stressful or traumatic events with a skill-building program that helps to clarify misunderstandings, enhances communication and supports collaborative problem-solving through the expression of a shared family story. FOCUS can be customized, with specialized services available for wounded warriors, female veterans and families with children of any age.
- TeleFOCUS. Adapted for wounded warriors and their families, TeleFOCUS provides family resilience training at a distance, via a remote videoconferencing system, to help the entire family heal from the visible and invisible wounds of war.
- National Military Family Association Operation Purple Family Retreats and Healing Adventures. Operation Purple supports military families during the reunification process by bringing them together in beautiful national park settings to strengthen and renew relationships using the FOCUS model. Healing Adventures offers a similar experience with adaptive activities for families of a wounded, ill, or injured service member.
- Project FOCUS. Contracted by the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and the Office of Military Family and Community Policy, Project FOCUS provides an embedded psychological health and resilience program for military couples and families affected by transitions, combat stress and physical injuries. FOCUS is currently available on 24 military installations throughout the United States and Pacific Rim.
- Operation Mend-FOCUS for wounded warriors and their families. Operation Mend-FOCUS extends mental health care and FOCUS services to patients with combat-related injuries and their families. The program collaborates with expert surgeons at UCLA’s Operation Mend program to heal physical wounds while recognizing that comprehensive care requires loving attention to the needs of both the service member being treated and the family.
The RAND report, “Enhancing Capacity to Address Mental Health Needs of Veterans and Their Families: The Welcome Back Veterans Initiative,” is available at www.rand.org. More information about the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative is available at www.welcomebackveterans.org.
Other centers funded by the Welcome Back Veterans Initiative include BraveHeart Southeast Veterans Initiative at Emory University; Duke University Veteran Culture and Clinical Competencies (V3C) initiative; Massachusetts General Hospital’s Home Base Program; the University of Michigan’s Military Support Programs and Networks; and Weill Cornell Medical College Department of Psychiatry’s Program for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress.