Abstract: Evaluation of the Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group Program: Promising Evidence of Peer Support's Impact (Society for Social Work and Research 28th Annual Conference - Recentering & Democratizing Knowledge: The Next 30 Years of Social Work Science)

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Evaluation of the Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group Program: Promising Evidence of Peer Support's Impact

Sunday, January 14, 2024
Supreme Court, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Elisa Borah, PhD, Research Associate Professor; Director, University of Texas at Austin, Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness, Austin, TX
Hannah O'Brien, MSSW, Program Coordinator, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
Jean Hare, Ph.D., LCSW, BCD, Director of Training, Social Work Internship Program, United States Army, Fort Carson, CO
Background and Purpose: Spouses of veterans face unique challenges after military service, from helping veterans navigate career and educational paths, to accessing healthcare and recovering from military injuries. Spouses face similar concerns around building or maintaining their careers, accessing healthcare, focusing on their well-being, and finding new communities of support. As critical partners in the military to civilian transition, spouses may lack practical knowledge of veterans’ mental health needs and feel unprepared to help support their recovery. Prior research has examined the impact of various forms of support on resiliency in military spouses. Increased social support was associated with higher resilience in spouses with children with special healthcare needs (Farrell et al., 2014). Meaningful social support emerges from salient shared group memberships (Praharso et al., 2017). Wang et al. (2015) found that military spouses who received social support from friends and family led to a greater sense of community, and increased feelings of psychological well-being. The goal of the Veteran Spouse Resiliency Group (V-SRG) Program, a 12-week, curriculum-based program led by two trained peers, is to provide veteran spouses with peer support that promotes their mental health, increases social support, and improves their quality of life.

Methods: Pre- and post-program assessments were administered to 32 veteran spouses using the online Qualtrics survey system. Assessment tools included the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire (Q-LES-Q-SF) (Stevanovic, 2011), the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) (Cohen et al., 1985), and the Interpersonal Support Evaluation Scale-shortened version (Donoho et al., 2017). Additional program satisfaction questions were included in the post-program survey battery to understand participants’ experiences in the program. These qualitative comments were coded for thematic analysis.

Results: We examined program goals through a one-group pretest-posttest design, mixed methods program evaluation. Paired samples t-tests compared the difference scores from pre-test to the post-test and showed statistically significant improvements in quality of life (M = -0.08; SD = 0.10; t = -3.99; p = 0.0005), depression (M =2.07, SD = 3.42, t = 3.205, p = .0015), and social support (M = -2.38, t= -1.796, p=.036). Qualitative yielded themes included the group creating a ‘safe place’ with people who have ‘shared experiences,’ that make them realize they ‘are not alone.’ One participant shared her experience, “This was such a great group that helped me understand that I was not alone and taught me that what my family was going through is normal when you have a family member that has been affected by PTSD and TBI.”

Conclusions and Implications: This evaluation demonstrated promising empirical findings of the value of peer support among veteran spouses. Results show that participation in a 12-week group-based peer support program provided spouses with support with mental health and social support needs and helped them achieve a higher quality of life, a greater sense of social support, increased self-care practices, and decreased anxiety and depression. Additional research with a comparison group would yield further evidence of its potential utility. This program can be disseminated and implemented in communities of veteran spouses.