Veterans in Crisis to Get Help from Law Enforcement

Calaveras Enterprise – Military veterans often experienced situations and conditions most in the civilian world cannot comprehend, and with those experiences come unique perspectives and reactions, particularly in times of crisis.

On Aug. 21, members of the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office, the Angels Camp Police Department, the county’s Probation Department and Veteran Services were invited to attend a four-hour crisis intervention training program focused on responding to veterans in crisis.

Crisis intervention training (CIT) was first introduced in 1988 to foster effective interactions between law enforcement and individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Soon after the first troops returned from the first Gulf War, a need arose to enhance the CIT to include training on deploying effective de-escalation techniques to ensure a safe interaction between veterans and law enforcement.

The need for this training in Calaveras was brought to light this past spring when a group – including veterans from organizations within the county, mental health and behavioral health workers, representatives from the Sonora Veteran’s Administration and the Veterans Service Office – participated in a brainstorming session to help prioritize the needs of the county’s veterans.

“By the last month of my 13 month deployment, we would be mortared four to five times a day. I would just check myself for all my limbs and keep walking.”
The group concluded that the number one priority was the need for services. The second was the need for emergency responders to be educated in responding to a veteran in crisis.

Swords to Plowshares – a San Francisco-based nonprofit specializing in veteran outreach, education and policy – presented the specialized training last week.

Geoff Millard, an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran and policy associate with the organization came to Calaveras and taught its Combat to Community program – a curriculum on cultural competency with a focus on Iraq- and Afghanistan-era veterans transitioning from combat to community.

“Many officers are seeing issues on the streets (involving veterans in crisis) and want info but haven’t had the resources before,” he said.

Millard explained that his training comes from his own personal experiences and that “training should be reinforced every year; the more often the better,” as each instructor will bring to light a different experience and scenario that illustrates the transitional challenges facing veterans as they return home.

“When I first arrived in country, mortar fire scared the (crap) out of me,” he recalled. “By the last month of my 13 month deployment, we would be mortared four to five times a day. I would just check myself for all my limbs and keep walking.”

But when the soldiers lost a buddy, the question in all their minds was, “Why did I walk away and he didn’t?”

Those experiences make the transition back to civilian life is challenging.

With California being the state with the highest deployed National Guard and highest population of active military. Geoff said the state estimates that “over 150,000 veterans will be returning to California in the next 12 months.”

According to Rand Center for Military Health Policy research, 20 percent will return with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), another 7 percent with a substance disorder, and 13,000 with alcohol dependency. With these numbers in mind, the training for law enforcement personnel to effectively respond to a veteran in crisis is becoming more and more crucial.

“We train for the safety of the officers and the safety of the people – the consumers.” said Geoff.

Sgt. Anthony Eberhardt with the Sheriff’s Office felt the training was valuable.

“(Geoff) gave a unique perspective from his point of view that we usually don’t see, unless it’s a call for service,” Eberhardt said.

He said he also felt the reaction to a veteran in crisis call may be different following last week’s training, stating, “Time is on our side and no need to escalate the situation.”

Jackie Jones, of the county’s Probation Department and a veteran, herself, said she felt that the “Veteran’s portion was a bit of an eye-opener, from the aspect of how veterans act and react to things differently in a civilian setting versus military settings.”

She was also interested to find that a veteran’s reaction doesn’t only apply to those with PTSD. While Jones may not be a first responder, she felt that this training will better help her handle a situation with an agitated client.

“The de-escalation tactic he used and demonstrated was very helpful and something I had never been taught before.”

The course is offered at no charge by Swords to Plowshares and is certified by the California Commission of Police Officers Standards and Training.

Source: Calaveras Enterprise, September 2, 2014, by Charity Maness