Demand for Military Couples Counseling on the Rise, Officials Say

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A military couple holds each other's hands as they talk about what expression of apology means most to them during a marriage retreat in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 23, 2012. (Krystal Wright/U.S. Air Force)

In the past two years, U.S. military families have increasingly been relying on counseling available through Military OneSource and the Defense Department's Military and Family Life Programs, but there has been no spike related to the pandemic, and neither has the DoD seen any increases in domestic violence incidents, Pentagon officials said Thursday.

Military OneSource, the DoD's program to assist military personnel and family members with concerns related to military life, provides non-medical counseling through two different programs: Military OneSource and Military and Family Life, an in-person counseling option that has gone virtual in areas hardest hit by COVID-19.

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Both programs provide counseling on a host of issues, including relationships, the military lifestyle, military moves, deployment assistance and finances.

According to Lee Kelley, director of Military Community Support Programs, relationship counseling continues to be the top single issue sought at Military OneSource, accounting for more than a half of all counseling requests in fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2020.

Use of these counseling services has risen steadily over the past two years, with couples seeming to prefer the convenience and accessibility of online counseling, Kelley said.

There has not been, however, increased demand as a result of the pandemic, she added.

"What you see in COVID-19 are anecdotes related to the circumstances of the pandemic; 'I'm not used to having my spouse in the house all day long,' -- communications challenges related to relationships," Kelley said.

In 2019, MilitaryOneSource conducted 260,000 counseling sessions on relationships. The number remained roughly the same in fiscal 2020, but both those years were higher than before, Kelley said.

This fall, Kelley's office launched a campaign to encourage service members and their spouses to focus on their relationships. The effort is designed to teach couples what they can get out of counseling and what to expect when seeking help.

It also focuses on providing participants the tools needed to find success in relationships or recover in the event of a breakup.

"We want to pull back the curtain on what relationship support looks like for couples in the military," Kelley said.

According to officials, DoD has not seen any increases in abuse among military couples as a result of the pandemic.

Early in the outbreak, advocates and others who support victims of domestic violence feared that incidents would increase with stay-at-home orders and restrictions on movement. One study, a review of X-ray records in Massachusetts in the first six weeks of the pandemic, showed a jump in injuries consistent with abuse.

But in many locations, calls to hotlines have dropped, leaving medical professionals and advocates puzzling over the decline and concerned that a surge is coming -- either as winter increases time spent indoors or the pandemic draws to a close.

According to DoD, the military services have not seen an increase in domestic violence reports since the start of the outbreak. The numbers remain similar to those a year ago at this time, said Director of the Office of Military Family Readiness Policy Carolyn Stevens.

This does not mean the Pentagon should let its guard down, she added. "We are concerned and this is an issue where we need to remain watchful," Sullivan said.

When the outbreak began, Military OneSource and Military and Family Life counselors had to pivot to telework, adopting a policy that allowed counselors to conduct virtual sessions with military youth, who previously could only meet with a counselor face-to-face, and ensuring that service members and families had access, either by telephone or video, to the 1,800 Military and Family Life counselors who normally work in offices on base, Kelley said.

In addition to focusing on improved relationships among military couples, DoD officials continue to work on easing the process for military spouses to get their professional licenses as they move from state to state, said Marcus Beauregard, Director of the Defense-State Liaison Office.

According to Beauregard, 20 states now meet a standard to ensure that already credentialed military spouses can obtain a temporary or permanent professional license within 30 days. Twenty-two states, he said, have navigable systems that make it easy for spouses to understand the requirements for transferring their licenses, and 39 states have committed to honoring interstate compacts on licensure.

Beauregard said in 2021, they will continue to press the remaining states to improve their practices.

"We are working hand-in-hand with [the services] in terms of their criteria ... so we don't have any disconnects we have to necessarily discuss with states to resolve," Beauregard said.

Military OneSource is available to active duty personnel and dependents, as well as National Guard and Reserve members and their dependents in active status, Standby Reserve Status or Individual Ready Reserve, as well as Coast Guard members activated as part of the Department of the Navy, survivors of deceased service members, medically discharged service members and caregivers of wounded warriors and certain discharged service members and retiree family members.

Military OneSource is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-342-9647.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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