AUSTIN, Texas -- A statewide initiative is serving veterans and their families during the transition from military to civilian life. A joint effort between the University of Texas at Austin and Dell Medical School, the Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness aims to address whatever needs might arise in veteran families' lives after active duty. The institute works with researchers, professionals, and community members to provide social support, meet behavioral needs, and develop effective programming. 

  • Veteran Spouse Resiliency Groups connects veteran spouses with peer support groups
  • Involves a 12-week curriculum

One growing program at the institute is the Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group, which connects veteran spouses and committed partners across Texas. Through local peer support groups, veteran spouses can openly discuss in a safe space some of their unique experiences and challenges. 

"We all know that spouses are involved in each other's decision-making about their lives like, 'What job to pursue,' or 'What health care should I access?' or 'Do I need help?' But we also heard that spouses were really struggling alongside veterans," Dr. Elisa Borah, director of the Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness, said. 

The Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group follows a 12-week curriculum in which veteran spouses and partners are co-facilitators and meet weekly for two hours in their own communities. There are several curriculum topics, which include "Taking Care of Ourselves," "The Lingering Effects of Service," "Trauma, Secondary Trauma & Compassion Fatigue​," and "Seeking Help." Researchers will be gathering data and evaluating the impact of social support so they can better understand these issues and improve care. 

While the curriculum does allow for social time, Borah said veteran partners will end up meeting outside of structured sessions and become friends.  

"A lot of military families leave the military and move to new places where they don't have a built-in community anymore, like they used to. That's what people have told us that this is so valuable, because they get to connect with other families that know what they've been through, because they've been through it themselves," she said. 

Veteran Derrick Lindsey served in the U.S. Army for 22 years, completing tours in South Korea and Afghanistan, before retiring at Fort Hood. Spectrum News caught up with the Lindsey and his partner, Holly Doggett, in Temple, where they spent the morning bowling. Getting out to socialize or do activities around large groups was not always so easy for them. 

“It's going into the unknown. My entire adulthood from high school to now was military, and now, you get thrown into things you don't know, so it's very frustrating and stressful," Lindsey said. 

“It was stressful from both kind of the financial standpoint, like, 'What's that going to look like? What kind of an impact is this going to have on us?' I was worried that he would end up kind of isolating himself, because I work full time,” Doggett said.  

Doggett attended a Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group in Killeen, where she found others she could lead on for guidance. The peer support group gave her a sense of hope. 

“After a while it can really get to you the feeling like well, maybe I'm missing something out here, maybe what's going on in our relationship is really abnormal. Then you go and meet with other spouses and partners, and it's so much shared experience," Doggett said. 

“If I come home and I'm real quiet and I don't talk, she knows it's not her fault. It's just something I'm going through. And before it was, 'What's wrong? What did I do wrong?'" Lindsey said. 

Inspired to continue sharing their story, Doggett will soon begin co-facilitating a peer support group in Copperas Cove. Veteran Spouse Resiliency Groups are planned to be offered online and in the following locations this year: Austin, Killeen, Copperas Cove, Harker Heights, San Antonio, Denton, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Boerne, Corpus Christi, and Houston​.

"It just gives you kind of a positive outlook on your relationship, and the realization that sometimes all of those struggles that you've gone through has actually made you stronger as a couple," Doggett said.

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