Free and Low-Cost Marriage Counseling for Veterans
If you’re a veteran or are actively serving in the military, it can be frustrating to try to find affordable couples counseling.
Marriage counseling and other “non-medical” mental health services aren’t covered by Tricare and aren’t as easy to access at Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics as other types of mental health care.
This service gap is significant. Being in the military—or readjusting to civilian life after serving—can put a lot of stress on your relationships.
How Does Military Service Affect Relationships?
Members of the military, especially those who have been deployed, have some of the highest divorce rates in the nation.
There are many reasons for this troubling statistic. First, there are the stressors imposed by military service requirements, like frequent moves and separations.
Then, there are the challenges you face as you return home after years of service and navigate your new life with your partner or spouse.
Finding affordable couples counseling can be crucial when you’re facing these stresses together and want to keep your relationship strong.
Fortunately, the VA and Department of Defense (DoD) are aware of this service gap, and many government- and civilian-run programs have been established to help you access free or low-cost marriage, couples, and family counseling. Read on to learn more about them.
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Active-Duty Military Marriage Counseling
If you’re actively serving in the military, there are programs available to you that can help you strengthen your relationships with your loved ones.
Some of these programs are specific to your branch of the military. Your chaplains and counselors provide a range of services for couples including individual counseling, classes, and retreats.
Military Marriage Enrichment and Couples' Retreat Programs
Military marriage support programs include:
- 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
- Military OneSource’s Building Healthy Relationships specialty consultation 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.
Which program you choose will depend on which branch of the military you’re in and whether a military or non-military option is the best fit for you.
You have another option as well if you’re an active service member or if it’s been less than a year since your service ended.
Military OneSource and Military and Family Life Counseling are confidential DoD programs that provide free non-medical counseling for service members and their families. This includes relationship and marriage counseling.
Through these programs, you and your loved ones can receive short-term face-to-face, telephone, or online counseling to address specific life issues. You’re limited to 12 free sessions per issue. Research shows that these programs successfully reduce anxiety and stress and improve relationship outcomes.
Medical Versus Non-Medical Counseling
The VA and DoD distinguish between medical and non-medical counseling, and Tricare only covers services that fall under the definition of medical counseling.
You can only receive Tricare-covered marriage counseling when you 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 some military providers and Tricare even if you have a mental health condition like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and it puts it out of reach altogether if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
This is why it’s important to know which military providers and resources offer free or affordable non-medical counseling.
Non-medical counseling isn’t the only way to get support. Many military programs offer additional resources for families including education and consultation services.
The Military Family Readiness System provides an interconnected web of programs aimed to help strengthen service members’ relationships with their families. In addition to counseling, the services offered through this system include relocation assistance, financial counseling, career coaching, and emergency family assistance.
Veterans Marriage Counseling at the VA
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 there.
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.
Find a VA Facility or Program
If you’re looking for individual or couples counseling, you can try one of these information and referral services provided by the VA:
- Make the Connection is an online education and referral service that connects you and your loved ones with resources to help you address relationship problems and other life issues.
- The Make the Connection Resource Locator can help you 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 can help link you 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 if you or a loved one are looking for local care options.
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.
Veterans Marriage Counseling Outside of the VA
The VA can be a great resource, but it isn’t always an option when you’re looking for veterans’ marriage counseling. Fortunately, there are also civilian-run programs that provide free or low-cost couples and family 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 that can help you quickly find local emergency and non-emergency resources.
- The United Way has local chapters that provide information and referrals to free and low-cost local resources, including resources for veterans. They sometimes offer their own programs as well.
You may also be able to find special veterans’ mental health resources through your state mental health system. Just click here and select your state to find out more. Your state’s page will include hotlines you can call for more information.
The person who answers when you call can help you find out if your city or county provides veteran-specific services or if you are otherwise eligible for public mental health services in your state.
Special Options for Post-9/11 Veterans
If you’re an active-duty service member or veteran who served after September 11, 2001, you and your loved ones can access free or low-cost marriage counseling through the following organizations:
- 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, you need to complete a free scholarship application form.
- The Cohen Veterans Network provides low or no-cost individual, marriage, or family counseling to post-9/11 veterans and their family members. They operate clinics across the country and guarantee immediate appointments if you’re in crisis.
The Cohen Veterans Network also offers telehealth services to veterans who cannot access a clinic. Click here to find out if their telehealth services are available in your state.
For more information on non-military programs that may be able to help, you can read our other article about free and low-cost counseling for veterans. That article focuses on general and individual therapy, but some of the programs listed in it offer couples counseling, too.
Crisis Resources for Veterans
If you’re in crisis, please reach out. There are many ways to get the help you need. One option for quick access to emergency care is to call a local mental health crisis line. Just go to our state services page, select your state, and figure out which number you should use based on where you live. There are also mental health crisis hotlines specifically for veterans.
Crisis Hotlines for Veterans
- The Veterans Crisis Line. To connect, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. This 24/7 hotline connects you and your family members with the caring mental health crisis response team at the VA.
- The service can also be reached by texting 838255 or by using the online chat option on the hotline’s website. Just like the phone hotline, the crisis chat and text service are anonymous and confidential.
- Vets4Warriors. To connect, call 1-855-838-8255. This hotline is a great option if you want to speak to a peer who understands what you’ve been through.
- You can also connect to Vets4Warriors via text and online chat.
- The Hero Care Program. To connect, call 1-877-272-7337. This hotline is run by The Red Cross and can help connect you with emergency mental health services as well as other resources you may need in an emergency.
Whether you need inpatient or outpatient treatment, crisis lines will help you get the right level of care. The people who answer can provide compassionate, confidential support that respects your unique circumstances as a veteran.
Additional Resources for Veterans
Some VA facilities and non-military organizations have unique clinics or programs for veterans. Some of them offer marriage and family counseling as well as individual counseling and other services.
Local Programs that Provide Marriage Counseling to Veterans
Local organizations that provide free or low-cost couples, marriage, and family counseling for veterans include:
- The Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville, Tennessee
- The Operation Mend program at the University of California Los Angeles
- The Military Family Clinic at New York University’s Langone Medical Center
- The Veterans’ Services 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 Soldiers and Families Embraced program for people living in the towns and counties in Tennessee and Kentucky that border Fort Campbell
- The Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families in Long Island, New York
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.
You can also read our other article on veterans’ counseling for more information about other local and regional specialty programs for veterans.
If you’re interested in faith-based therapy, many local and national non-profits offer faith-based programs, and free pastoral counseling may also be available at local churches and religious organizations where you live, including faith-based couples counseling.
If you’re a veteran, it can be hard to find affordable marriage or couples counseling. We hope this article has helped you find a great option where you live, but even if it hasn’t, you may have other options.
When time and distance create a barrier to counseling, online counseling can be a great option. If you can’t get couples counseling through telehealth programs provided by the VA or the Cohen Veterans Network, you can get online couples counseling that can fit any schedule from ReGain (a sponsor).
If you’re an active-duty military service member, a veteran, or a military family member, you don’t have to face life’s challenges alone. Getting the right help can change your life, and help is more accessible than you think. With the right support, you can get through the tough times together with your partner, strengthen your relationship, 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.