Normally, the U.S. military would avoid a retreat at all costs.
But this is one retreat our troops ought to rush headlong into.
The VA hospitals of Augusta have created a marriage retreat for veterans and spouses to help them re-acclimate to each other – and it’s helping save marriages, if not more than that.
One couple who were so on the verge of divorce that their footprints were on the courthouse steps announced to the group later in the retreat that the divorce was off – and that, instead, the marriage was off and running. A therapist later reported that the marriage was better now than on the day the couple married.
Not surprisingly, that kind of success is getting noticed. Since the program began three years ago, the Charlie Norwood Veterans Administration Medical Center chief of chaplain services, the Rev. Ron Craddock, has been all over the country speaking about it and helping other VA facilities start their own. It has received a Best Practice Award from the secretary of veterans affairs.
“We’re the grandfather” of what is becoming a national program, he said.
The program works because it was created to. Advised by a social worker that there was a need to help returning Iraq and Afghanistan vets keep their marriages intact – along with all the usual issues that come with long separations, frequent moves and money problems, come post-traumatic stress and even brain injuries – Craddock and Crew did the wise and unusual thing: They asked the troops what they could use.
What stuck out at the first gathering was how the invited couples didn’t need “facilitating”; they instantly clicked with each other, and were still clicking when the organizers had left.
Other than listening, the secret to the program’s success seems to be recognizing what Craddock calls “emotional
allergies” that escalate arguments and, ultimately, locating the weapons of mass destruction that can blow up relationships.
The retreats, now scheduled nearly monthly, have been expanded to all veterans of all eras. Some 430 couples have been touched locally.
Craddock gives much credit to U.S. Magistrate Judge Leon Barfield and to Laurie Ott, former head of the Augusta Warrior Project, for helping start the retreats and giving them form, as well as others. It’s clear the group is onto something.
“We feel like we are,” Craddock says.
The VA and helping veterans and their spouses stay together and stay strong – it seems a marriage made in heaven.