Police learn about military vetsPolice in Lancaster County get training on military veterans
The hit film “American Sniper” ingrained war veteran issues in the nation’s conscience.
Local officials already had them in mind. The county last year secured a $24,938 grant to train police officers how to respond to crises involving veterans.
Training created by Drexel University is provided in four-hour classes, the first two of which were held two weeks ago. The third is today.
Officers are learning to identify diagnoses a veteran may suffer like depression, posttraumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury. They also are taught what resources are available to veterans.
“A veteran needs to connect with somebody who understands,” said Teri Miller-Landon, the county’s crisis intervention training coordinator. So an officer is urged to tell the veteran similarities soldiers and police share.
Both groups encounter traumatic stressors such as the death of innocent people or serious injury. Both protect their “brothers” from danger.
“The military culture mirrors police culture,” said West Hempfield Township police Chief Mark Pugliese, an Air Force veteran and one of the class instructors. “If anyone can relate to the military and issues they may be having, it would be a police officer.”
Veterans face many challenges after returning home from deployment, Pugliese and Miller-Landon said.
Accustomed to discipline and obeying orders in the military, they may show inappropriate aggression, or snap at loved ones back at home.
They may feel keyed up or anxious if they hear a loud noise or are in a crowd.
Alcohol, used to cope with deployment, was limited during a tour of duty but is plentiful when a soldier returns home.
“Vets did serve our country, and are coming back with issues they otherwise may not have had,” Miller-Landon said. If those issues lead them to commit crimes, veterans should get help, not necessarily a prison sentence.
Suicide is also more prevalent among veterans that the general population. Every day in the U.S., 22 veterans take their own lives, the Department of Veterans Affairs reported in late 2013.
Communities as a whole are not doing enough to help soldiers after them come home, Pugliese said.
“We’re failing the veterans,” he said.
Police know veterans are familiar with officers’ tactics and it is not unusual for a veteran to be armed. The training hopefully will help keep both officer and veteran safe as often as possible.
“You can’t expect an officer to come up with a miracle to save the day, but you can give them extra tools to help in handling people,” Pugliese said.
The veterans training is open only to those who have completed the 40-hour general crisis intervention training, Miller-Landon said. That’s 107 police officers and 50 corrections officers so far. Some had requested additional classes focusing on veterans and juveniles, prompting Miller-Landon to apply for the grant.
Fifteen of those officers are participating in this week’s class, and 37 others have registered for other classes this year.
The grant is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and was awarded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.
Seven police officers who also are veterans, and three clinicians have been taught so they can provide the training after the grant expires in 2016, Miller-Landon said.
Part of the grant also will fund a crisis intervention class related to incidents involving juveniles that may be ready by this summer.