VA Gulf Coast provides PTSD awareness training to local law enforcement
September 10, 2010
GI RIGHTS NEWS
Count the VA Gulf Coast in if a training initiative can save veterans' lives and protect law enforcement officers.
Dozens of Northwest Florida law enforcement officials attended voluntary Post Traumatic Stress Disorder training sessions conducted by the VA Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System in the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office administration building recently.
The main objectives of the sessions were to educate officers about the signs and symptoms of PTSD in veterans, and inform them of ways to diffuse a situation to keep it from escalating.
Part of the driving force behind this arrangement was recent incidents involving veterans and law enforcement in the northwest Florida area.
Dr. Angela Ross, VA staff psychologist, gave four, 90-minute PTSD
briefings to officials from the Florida Highway Patrol, Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office and the Fort Walton Beach Police Department, to name a few. Ross recounted several scenarios and situations where veterans perceived a potential threat and acted as if they were still on the battlefield.
"Hyper vigilance, anxiety attacks, perceived threats all these known symptoms of PTSD could lead to a situation that could be dangerous to all involved, even in a routine traffic stop," Ross told the participants. "If time is on your hands, you should do everything possible to diffuse the situation and come across as helpful to the veteran."
Ross advised officers not to point at, grab or approach a veteran from behind who exhibits signs of PTSD. She also dispelled the notions that all veterans suffering from PTSD are violent or erratic.
While some veterans carry weapons on their person or stash weapons throughout their homes, Ross explained they are creating or have created a safe zone for themselves.
"To them, it's all about being safe or feeling safe, but there are many veterans who suffer from PTSD who are able to function normally," she said. "The key is getting them in and through treatment."
Ross also touched on the fact that even officers in the audience may be suffering from a mild case of PTSD, suggesting that PTSD is not only found in combat veterans or people who have served in the military.
"We've all encountered a situation that reminded us of a tragedy we may have experienced in our lives," Ross said, "and we all deal with those situations in our own unique ways."
All told, the training and information Ross gave was appreciated.
"I definitely learned some things today," Tammy Tindle-Husar, Florida
Highway Patrol trooper, said. "This information will certainly help me in the field."
Tentatively, the OCSO is planning to incorporate VAGCVHCS participation in its Crisis Intervention Techniques training seminars in early 2011. Mental health awareness already makes up a large part of their CIT agenda.