VETERENS IN CRISIS
By Mike Lacroix
By Mike Lacroix
1867 words – MR
VETERANS IN CRISIS
A focus on the military member in distress
by Mike Lacroix
A troubled young man was reported in the area of Main Street, Markham in March, 1999 carrying a knife. Police responded in typical fashion and the emergency response unit was dispatched, isolated the individual, contained the event, evacuated the immediate area and attempted to negotiate with lethal and less lethal options at the ready.
The young man refused to drop the knife and the event seemed to be headed towards a suicide-by-cop scenario. He was hit in the chest with an Arwen round and dosed with Mark 9 OC. ERU members took the man to the ground while he was distracted; he was cuffed and taken to the station.
ERU officers then moved on to their next call knowing that they had followed procedures to the T, didn’t have to take a life, had used their tools effectively and acted within the scope of their mandate and training; without a doubt a job well done.
As it turned out the troubled young man was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces experiencing a mental health crisis.
Does that last line change anything?
Forces members have more in common with law enforcement than many might realize. We share an oath and commitment to duty. We wear a distinctive uniform that forms part of our identity, both internally and externally. We are subject to orders that may lead to harm or even our own end – and we take our own lives at a higher rate than the villain on the street, the enemy on the battlefield or the average citizen.
Does law enforcement have a duty to do more for our service personnel in uniform or our veterans? What systems assist a veteran in crisis?
This article serves to introduce you to present alternatives or systems already in place, across Canada, to assist a Canadian Forces (CF) member in a mental health crisis; this is what military personnel call “enablers.” Nothing in this article serves to replace provincial laws or service policies.
- Peer support
Peer support networks across Canada have swelled to provide awareness of mental health issues and respond to veterans in crisis. This initially began at the Army Reserve Brigades, but has grown to be include every type of service.
An initiative known as ‘send up the count,’ in response to an increase in military suicides, was recently recognized by the Governor General with the awarding of the Meritorious Service Medal. Peer support has proven to be an effective tool in monitoring the well-being of fellow soldiers, sailors and aviators.
A police officer on a mental health call may hesitate to include another person but might welcome a family member. To a soldier, a peer is a family member. Their inclusion can help de-escalate the situation and open the door to advanced CF care and support systems. Keep in mind that service members may not want their peers involved because they may feel this would make them appear weak in their friend’s view, or they may not want to be a burden to them. Remember, their peer cares and is likely willing to help.
- The chain-of-command
Officers responding to a retail clerk in a mental health crisis would find it difficult to contact their employer for help. In the Canadian Forces, each member of the chain-of-command is trained on how to react to one of their soldiers experiencing a breakdown. From PTSD to drug and alcohol misuse and everything in between, these professional leaders take mandatory training on their requirement to respond and there are systems in place to back them up.
The easiest way to engage the chain-of-command is to get the consent of the person in crisis. Asking a question like “Is there anyone at your unit we can call?” or “Is there someone at your unit that you feel you’d like to speak to?” are great openers that will show that you understand, but also gets you the consent you need to activate the chain-of-command.
If there is a risk to public safety, you are obligated to notify the chain-of-command. A soldier will likely follow a leader, so behave like one and also get one there to help you.
- The chaplain network
Each military unit has access to a military chaplain. CF chaplains are on strength, commissioned officers, essentially ‘free-runners,’ who offer much more than ministerial or pastoral care. They provide commanding officers with timely assessment of the well-being of their unit. It is not unusual to have the padre jump in your trench for 40 minutes or join the line to load provisions on board ship just so they can have the opportunity to engage each member of the unit.
The chaplains by nature are trained and expected to be multi-faith and respect the beliefs of others. Military chaplains are on call 24/7 and, for the most part, a responding officer can potentially have a chaplain attend their call within an hour. For remote communities, a chaplain can be on the phone within minutes.
Chaplains are called to perform christenings, funerals and everything in between. They really have seen it all. If you have a military unit in your area, it is well worth your time to pay them a visit and learn how to contact them.
- Resources for homeless veterans
It may seem hard to believe, but CF members in good standing can fall down the path to homelessness. In some cases, they may even feel like they are better off living that way. The important thing to know is that there are organizations – Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), Royal Canadian Legion and Veterans Emergency Transition Services (VETS), for example – that are happy to assist and will be there when a member is ready to accept help.
VETS Canada is a volunteer-led, apolitical, non-profit corporation based in Nova Scotia which provides aid and comfort to Canadian veterans in-crisis, at risk of becoming homeless or who are homeless. Contact: vetscanada.org or call 1-888-228-3871.
VAC can also be called to provide support. Case management services are available to all current and former CF members and their families and former RCMP members who may be finding it difficult to transition. Case managers can help veterans by assessing their immediate needs and linking them to services and programs within VAC or their community.
Veterans in crisis may be able to access emergency funds to help buy food, pay for emergency shelter or other essentials. Other services available include peer support, job-search training, career counselling and pastoral outreach.
VAC services can be accessed through any of its offices or by calling 1-866-522-2122 (English) or 1-866-522-2022 (French). You can also call the VAC Assistance Service at 1-800-268-7708, a 24-hour help line that provides veterans and their families with short-term professional counselling and referral services, including support for mental and emotional health concerns.
It has been stated that the majority of PTSD cases will appear between five and eight years after the individual returns from a deployment or experiences an event. We are well into that five to eight-year period with Afghanistan, so now is when we should expect more cases, not less.
Police officers will often recognize a military member is in distress from previous incidents or contacts. In other cases, family members will notify police that the member is either serving or a veteran.
It is also possible to recognize a member by the way they talk, dress, dog tags, tattoos or how they carry themselves. Individuals living on the street may use the equipment or kit that they are most comfortable with or trusts, which could be of military issue – sleeping bag, Gerber knife, bayonet, desert boots, etc.
A soldier in crisis may initially see you as threat to their isolation or just another authority figure trying to tell them what to do. He or she will constantly be assessing the threat (the responding officer) and continue developing their situational awareness determining all possible courses of action. These can be the same characteristics of a paranoid person. Keep in mind that these instincts have been honed over a soldier’s career.
To a soldier, cops or military police might just be another authority figure who wants to fight with them. They may also be looking for the challenge, the fight, a chance for the adrenalin rush or even pain if they feel guilt. It could either be survivor’s guilt or guilt for some action they had to take while deployed. The difficulty in subduing a member who does not want to comply will be based on their training and tolerance for pain, or even “need” for pain.
A confrontation could likely cause the member to get angry and more stubborn. A soldier will not quit or go peaceably, if pushed; it is not in their nature to give up. Their code is to never surrender! Typically they will not want to talk to you about their feelings because they may perceive you as just another civilian. You have not earned their respect and do not understand what they have gone through. Ultimately, they may not want to talk about their issues with anyone, which is why they are where they are.
Consider responding with slow, straight-on talking. A cover officer should avoid moving around on the flank trying to get into a blind spot. Military people are trained to have situational awareness of their surroundings and as such will be observing you, your body language, approach and your partner’s location. Try to reason with them that you have to do your job and cannot just leave them there. They can appreciate that you are just doing your job. Most importantly, make the time to just sit and talk.
The emphasis today for law enforcement is on negotiation and de-escalation. These tips and resources can be called on when dealing with CF members and help end their crisis without the use of force or risk of injury.
In January, 2016 two officers respond to a noise complaint in the City of Vaughan. They determined by speaking with the subject that they were dealing with a soldier in crisis who may attempt to end his life.
They spoke to the soldier as an equal and gained consent to call their chain-of-command. Within 40 minutes a CF major arrived and assisted in calming and deescalating the situation. When the soldier chose to act up, the major ordered him to behave by using command presence and a prior relationship of trust and mutual respect.
The soldier is receiving ongoing care and the police left knowing that they had followed procedures to the T, did not have to take a life, had used their tools effectively and acted within the scope of their mandate and training; without a doubt a job well done.
Mike Lacroix is a use of force trainer with York Regional Police who continues to serve in the Army Reserve as an infantry captain in the Grey & Simcoe Foresters. His former appointment was sergeant-major of 32 Canadian Brigade Group in Toronto. Lacroix preserves the stories of Canada’s veterans at www.canadianmilitaryhistorypodcast.ca . Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Acknowledgements: CWO Mark Shannon, CD