February 6, 2009 – There’s a training video in the works, targeting a troubling trend among American combat veterans. Some who struggle with mental health issues end up in deadly standoffs with police, and the state Department of Veterans Affairs hopes the video will do something to prevent it.
Here’s the scenario: A recent combat veteran walks into a convenience store with an assault rifle. He orders the clerk to call the police and kicks her out. This vet struggles with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and wants a confrontation with police. He may even want to die in a hailstorm of police bullets.
“These folks are still in combat mode. So as a result, they are more aggressive than someone might normally be,” said Terry Schow, director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs.
Last year, at least three young vets committed suicide by cop. The Utah VA is making the video to better train law enforcement for those situations and these individuals.
“As they approach a situation, hopefully one of the questions they ask is: ‘Are you a combat veteran?'” Schow said.
Here’s one of the messages in the training: Law enforcement should look for clues that might tip them off that the person they’re encountering is a combat veteran.
“They’re going to have arousal response. They’re going to be hyper-vigilant. They’re going to have things the normal person on the street is not going to experience as a threat, they’re going to see as a threat,” explained Darin Farr, outreach and research director for the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs.
The video aims to reduce the stigma of P.T.S.D. and show law enforcement officers they can reduce the volatility of encounters with combat veterans, especially if they better understand the vet’s experience and use that in a clam approach.
“Some of them are on their second and third deployments. You keep having that chronic exposure, that just compounds it with P.T.S.D.,” Farr said.
Empathy goes a long way to diffuse the situation. “If you’ve got a combat-mode guy and a law enforcement combat-mode guy, those two things clash. But if there’s an understanding of what’s going on with these guys, it can make a big difference and, ideally, save the lives of the veterans in trouble,” Schow said.
The $5,000 to fund the video comes from a House bill passed a few years ago to provide support for returning veterans with mental health problems.