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Free and Low Cost Marriage Counseling for Veterans
Veterans sometimes need mental health services that aren’t covered by Tricare or that aren’t as easy to access as other services provided at Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics. One of the mental health services that can be the most difficult for veterans to access is marriage counseling.
The VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) distinguish between medical and non-medical counseling, and Tricare only covers services that fall under the definition of medical counseling. Veterans or active-duty service members can only receive Tricare-covered marriage counseling when they have a diagnosed mental health condition and a referring mental health provider deems marriage counseling medically necessary to treat that condition.
This makes couples counseling difficult to get through Tricare even for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other serious psychiatric conditions, and it puts it out of reach altogether for veterans who have not been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
This service gap leaves military members vulnerable. Stressors imposed by service requirements, like frequent moves and separations, take a toll on relationships. When veterans come home after years of service, the challenges of readjusting to civilian life can add further strain. People in the military, especially those who have been deployed, have some of the highest divorce rates in the nation.
Fortunately, the VA and DoD are aware of these service gaps, and many government- and civilian-run programs have been established to help active-duty military service members and veterans access free or low-cost marriage, couples, and family counseling.
Active-Duty Member Marriage Counseling
Military chaplains and counselors provide many services that help members of the military strengthen relationships with their loved ones, including individual counseling, classes, and retreats. Marriage support programs for active-duty military include the following:
- The Army’s Strong Bonds program
- The Air Force’s MarriageCare program
- The Navy’s Chaplains’ Religious Development Operation (CREDO) program
- The Marine Corps’ Prevention and Relationship Enhancement (PREP) program.
Many of these programs offer free couples and family retreats that include educational sessions focused on communication and relationship-building skills. Some non-military organizations also offer retreats for military families:
- The National Military Family Association runs free family retreats and camps.
- Reboot Combat Recovery offers a free 12-week retreat program that helps veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder reconnect with their families.
Military OneSource and Military and Family Life Counseling (MFLC) are confidential DoD programs that provide service members and their families with free non-medical counseling from licensed counselors. Through these programs, members of the military can receive short-term face-to-face, telephone, or online counseling to address a specific life issue.
These services are limited to 12 free sessions per issue. Research shows that these programs successfully reduce anxiety and stress for military members and their families and improve relationship outcomes. Unfortunately, these services are only available to veterans for the first 365 days after their service has ended.
Veterans Marriage Counseling
Some VA hospitals and clinics offer marriage and family counseling, but not all do. You can inquire at your local VA facility to learn whether couples or family counseling is available. You can also ask if they have a Family Services Department or Family and Couple Services Department and what services or programs are available through those departments.
You may also be able to get marriage or family counseling at one of the VA’s Vet Centers. These community-based counseling centers provide readjustment counseling for veterans who have served in a combat zone or who have been exposed to other kinds of military trauma. Services available at Vet Centers include couples and family counseling as well as individual counseling for family members. You can read the full list of criteria for Vet Center eligibility here and search for your nearest Vet Center here.
If you can’t find marriage or family counseling at a nearby VA facility, you can try one of the following information and referral services provided by the VA:
- Make the Connection is an online education and referral service that connects veterans and their loved ones with resources to help them address relationship problems and other life issues.
- The Make the Connection Resource Locator helps veterans find counseling programs run by the VA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), or other national organizations.
- Coaching Into Care is a national telephone counseling service for veterans and their family members that helps link veterans with local mental health services.
These referral services do not exclusively link to low-cost or free resources but can be a great starting point for veterans and family members looking for local care options. You can also find care at civilian-run programs that provide free or low-cost counseling to veterans:
- Give an Hour is a volunteer program that links licensed therapists with veterans, military families, and trauma survivors who need free individual, couples, or family counseling. The free counseling sessions are provided once a week for at least one year.
- The Red Cross Information and Referral Service for Military Families connects veterans with free or low-cost mental health services in their communities. The Red Cross even has a free “Hero Care” app for Android and Apple smartphones that can help veterans quickly find local emergency and non-emergency resources.
- Local chapters of the United Way often provide information and referrals to free and low-cost community resources for veterans, and sometimes offer their own programs.
Active-duty service members and veterans who served after September 11, 2001, can access free or low-cost marriage counseling through the following organizations:
- The Soldiers’ Project offers free, confidential and unlimited mental health services, including marriage and family counseling, to post-9/11 veterans and their family members regardless of discharge status, branch of service, or combat experience. Some of their services are currently suspended due to a lack of funding, but they plan to resume services as soon as they find new funding sources.
- The Camaraderie Foundation provides scholarships for free counseling to post-9/11 military veterans, active-duty service members, and their families. To access this program, people need to complete a free scholarship application form on the foundation’s website.
- Post-9/11 veterans and their family members can receive low or no-cost individual, marriage, or family therapy through The Cohen Veterans Network, which operates clinics across the country. Veterans who are in crisis are guaranteed an immediate appointment at a Cohen Veterans Network clinic.
For veterans or active-duty service members who are in crisis, local mental health crisis lines are one option for quick access to emergency care. There are also mental health crisis hotlines specifically for veterans:
- Veterans and family members can call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line. This 24/7 service links veterans with the caring mental health crisis response team at the VA. The service can also be reached by texting 838255 or via online chat on the hotline’s website. The crisis chat and hotline are anonymous and confidential.
- For veterans who want to speak with a peer, the Vets4Warriors program has a peer support hotline that can be reached at 1-855-838-8255. They also have text-based and online chat support.
- The Red Cross’ emergency service referral hotline and Hero Care program can be reached at 1-877-272-7337.
Whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, crisis lines will help link you with the right level of care.
Additional Resources for Veterans
Some VA facilities and non-military organizations have unique clinics or programs for veterans. Local organizations that provide free or low-cost marriage counseling for veterans and their families include:
- The Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville, Tennessee
- The Goodwill Wellness Center of Silicon Valley in California
- The veterans’ grant program at West Texas Counseling and Guidance in San Angelo, Texas
- The Couples and Family Therapy Clinic at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, South Carolina
- The Military Family Clinic at New York University’s Langone Medical Center
- The Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families in Long Island, New York
- The Soldiers and Families Embraced program for people living in the towns and counties in Tennessee and Kentucky that border Fort Campbell
These are just a few of the local programs available to veterans and their families. You can inquire at your local VA, peer-run veterans’ organization, or chapter of the United Way to find out if there are unique veterans’ programs that serve your area. If you’re interested in faith-based therapy, many local and national non-profits offer faith-based programs, and free pastoral counseling may be available at local churches and religious organizations.
Sometimes, the biggest barriers to counseling are geographic. When the closest provider is a long drive away, commute time and fuel expenses can render counseling inaccessible. It’s even harder when two people have to coordinate their schedules to be at a counseling office at the same time, especially when both people work and the office only has daytime hours. When these issues create a barrier to counseling, online counseling services can be the best option. ReGain (a sponsor) offers online couples counseling that can fit any schedule.
If you are an active-duty service member, veteran, or family member, you don’t have to face the challenges of life alone. Help is closer and more accessible than you think. With the right support, you can get through life’s challenges, strengthen your relationships, heal from stress and trauma, and build the life you deserve.
Stephanie Hairston is a freelance mental health writer who spent several years in the field of adult mental health before transitioning to professional writing and editing. As a clinical social worker, she provided group and individual therapy, crisis intervention services, and psychological assessments.