How Cops Can Best Deal With Vets

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Soldiers, especially those back from combat, may require special handling by police in potentially-explosive situations.

How should we keep veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and/or hearing loss from getting shot from altercations with police?

Police are increasingly the first responders for responding to veterans in trouble, including those exhibiting disruptive behavior, barricade situations, and “suicide-by-cop” attempts.

I wrote last week on the Crisis Intervention Team International conference. Now I want to summarize some practical tips I gleaned at the session for law enforcement officers who may respond to a call for assistance.

The dispatchers who take the calls are also an important link. Their protocols should be reviewed to improve early identification of veterans to better guide the response.

Here are some tips for law enforcement who may find themselves dealing with veterans:

— Ask the person if he or she is a veteran, or has served in the military

— If you have a veteran on the responding team, he or she may be the best to communicate.

— Build rapport, by asking about what their “MOS” (military occupational specialty) was, where they trained, and where they served.

— Treat them with respect and dignity.

— Ask if they have a battle buddy or first sergeant that they would like to talk to.

— Know that the veteran may have PTSD, TBI, hearing loss, or wounds causing pain or disability.

— Assume he or she might have some difficulty processing information.

— Speak slowly and clearly. Ask if he or she can hear you.

— Assume patriotism, and consider appealing to that higher calling.

— Do not denigrate the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

— Recent veterans are likely not interested in going to mental health services. But they may go to a chaplain or a Veteran Service Organization, such as the American Legion.

— If there is the possibility of a firearm, assume the veteran knows how to use it. Be cautious.

None of this means that veterans are any more likely to be violent than any one else. But veterans are a special breed, and deserve special consideration.

Thanks to Dan Abreu, Alison Lighthall, Dr. Ellen Crouse and others for their suggestions incorporated into the above.

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Duane Mowrer
Duane Mowrer

Also, don't assume the veteran wants to do harm.  If one is standing in front of a veteran, wondering if that vet is going to hurt them - they're not.  The absence of violence means that the vet does not want to commit violence, and normally will not do so unless violence is begun first by someone else.  The one thing every experienced veteran knows even better than how to commit controlled action is how to refrain from doing so, even in high-stress situations, unless he or she is led to believe that it is the necessary thing to do.

Duane Mowrer
Duane Mowrer

The point being, if you are standing in front of a vet, wondering if he's going to hurt you - he's already decided not to.  Relax and treat him/her with respect, not fear.  Fear is, in itself, disrespectful to most vets.


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