Crisis Intervention Teams For Vets: Sure Beats Jail

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Las Vegas — About 2.5 million troops have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a lot of people who have seen war up close and personal. It can affect some of them adversely when they come back home. That’s why the nation’s police departments are increasingly concerned about how to safely interact with that small slice of veterans who may be suicidal, disruptive or violent.

Although hard data is scarce, police are increasingly being involved in domestic violence, barricades, and “suicide-by-cop” scenarios. The news is full of “seemingly trigger-happy police interacting with the mentally ill.”

Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training is the name given to training that police get on how to interact with the mentally ill. First developed in Memphis, Tennessee, the training has spread to police departments across the nation.

The basic premise is how to promote safe interactions between police and those with mental illness or other behavioral issues. CIT is also about partnerships and collaboration with behavioral health providers, family members and consumers. The Nationally Alliance on Mentally Illness (NAMI) is a co-partner in many states.

The 2012 CIT International Conference is underway right now. It’s exciting for someone like me to realize that there are numerous discussions and presentations –including seven different workshops — on relationships between cops and vets.

Recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and suicidal behavior in veterans are logical topics for law enforcement. We’re already including them in the training of Washington, D.C., police force, for example.

As well as knowing the veteran with TBI may respond with irritability or confusion, the police officer should ensure that the veteran can hear his or her commands. At the conference, a talk by Dr. Ellen Crouse from the Memphis VA highlighted the possibility of hearing loss in veterans, and the importance of talking slowly and deliberately to them.

Incarcerated veterans may account for as much as 15% of the nation’s prison population. Sergeant David Cavanaugh of Idaho’s Boise City Police Department talked about trying to reduce that share. He described what he termed the “sequential interception” model for veterans. Its goal: try to get mentally-ailing vets into mental health treatment, rather than jail. The interventions can occur out in the community, when a veteran is arrested, when the veteran comes to court, or even once jailed.

Veteran’s courts have shown increasing promise. They have spread across the country, and are receiving accolades. Having a veteran mentor seems like a critical factor for their success.

Another positive: many law enforcement officers are veterans themselves. They are excited and enthusiastic about picking up better tools to help their fellow vets.