How cops can help military veterans with PTSD and TBI

Please remember when dealing with despondent veterans that these war fighters are sick and need treatment — we owe them much more than we can give so at least provide them that courtesy


Iraq war veteran Omar Gonzalez scaled a fence at the White House recently before the Secret Service could stop him. Gonzalez faces charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon, which in this case was a small folding knife. Family members have stated that he needs counseling instead of prosecution.

Everyday across our nation, 22 military veterans will take their own lives as they give into depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). That means a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. 

Another startling statistic comes from a survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America which showed that 30 percent of service members have considered taking their own life. 

What Does this Mean for Law Enforcement? 
This means that there will be a lot of law enforcement contact with veterans in the future and handling such incidents requires knowledge and training. Many American war fighters have sustained invisible wounds that often go undetected or undertreated until it’s too late and by then the call for help comes from a 911 call.

Although the numbers have increased over the years most combat veterans return home unharmed but there are many that need help and the help starts with law enforcement in many instances. We first must be able to recognize some of the common signs and symptoms of PTSD and TBI. Here is a short list provided by wwwstopsoldiersuicide.org. 

PTSD:
     •    Nightmares
     •    Flashbacks
     •    Anxiety in crowds
     •    Avoiding things that makes them recall how the trauma occurred
     •    Keeping busy to avoid down time to think
     •    Insomnia
     •    Startled by loud noises
     •    Sitting with their back to the walls in public places
     •    Trouble concentrating
     •    Feeling the world is dangerous
     •    Increased irritability

TBI:
     •    Difficulty with fatigue or lethargy levels
     •    Trouble sleeping
     •    Behavioral or mood changes
     •    Trouble with memory, concentration and thinking
     •    Physical symptoms such as headaches, weakness in your arms or legs and balance problems

Ask, Care, and Escort 
These symptoms can lead a veteran to suicidal thoughts which some act upon. You may come in contact with a veteran responding to a 911 call or during a contact on the streets. Recognizing these signs may help you determine the best course of action in helping him. If you come in contact with a veteran during a service call the key to success is to establish trust and a bond with the veteran by getting him talking. Stopsoldiersuicide.org offers a simple guideline when dealing with despondent veterans. They suggest using the acronym ACE — ask, care, and escort. 

Ask the veteran or active-duty service member about suicidal thoughts: 

1.    Have the courage to ask if your warrior is having thoughts of suicide, but stay calm.
2.    Ask the question directly: Are you thinking of killing yourself? (Know the signs.) 

Care for the veteran or active-duty service member:

1.    Stay calm and stay safe. 
2.    Understand that the veteran is probably suffering deep emotional pain.
3.    Remove any weapons, objects, or tools that pose a danger to the person.
4.    Actively listen for details about what, where and when they may be planning to take their life.
5.    Be non-judgmental as you listen, which can help produce relief for the warrior. But do not go down into the depths with them in your conversation. Be positive and helpful.

Escort the veteran or active-duty service member to get help:

1.    Escort the person in need immediately to his or her chaplain if active duty or a behavioral health professional.
2.    If practical you may provide the member with the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and press 1 to speak with a trained professional right away.  
3.    Don’t keep the warrior’s suicidal behavior a secret. Let loved ones and family know what’s going on. 
4.    Never leave the person alone and stay until he receives the appropriate help.

These guidelines were developed for family members and loved ones to keep  situational awareness and tactics in tune. Military veteran Eddie Ray Routh, whom suffered from PTSD, murdered Chris Kyle, author of “American Sniper,” while Kyle was attempting to help Routh with his illness in 2013. 

The Tulsa Police Department developed an in-service training program for dealing with PTSD and TBI which will become part of their annual in-service training. Departments and officers can contact their local Veterans Administration for help in developing such programs. Such training also offers an additional benefit to officers and that is PTSD awareness to our own brothers. PTSD and suicide in law enforcement isn’t new to the thin blue line.

Please remember when dealing with despondent veterans that these war fighters are sick and need treatment — we owe them much more than we can give so at least provide them that courtesy. When possible, and the situation warrants try and convey or even arraign for transport to your local VA Hospital so they can receive immediate professional help. As always follow department policies when dealing with a suicidal subject. Lastly, the situation may need to be handled like any other suicidal subject so keep that in mind so that you and your veteran don’t get hurt. 

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