Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
VA Partners with Police to Prevent Veteran Suicide
When VA Suicide Prevention Case Managers receive a phone call from a suicidal Veteran or a call from the Veterans Crisis Line, they sometimes have to make a request to local law enforcement to conduct a welfare check to ensure a Veteran is safe.
If local police determine the Veteran is a threat to themselves, they will transport the Veteran to a VA or nearby hospital for treatment.
“We rely on police to respond quickly, put eyes on people, use their empathy and decide if a person is safe,” said Melissa Vanderhoof, VA Suicide Prevention Case Manager. “If there is a military Veteran on that police force, we recommend having them respond. Veterans seem to respond better to officers that are also Veterans.”
To help prepare local enforcement for welfare checks, the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System has trained more than 450 police officers since January 2018.
The training is officially called Operation S.A.V.E., which stands for Signs of suicide, Asking about suicide, Validating feelings, Encouraging help and Expediting treatment. The four-hour training provides an understanding of the suicide problem in the U.S.; how to identify a Veteran who may be at risk for suicide; and, finally, what to do if they identify a Veteran at risk.
“Local law enforcement may be the first and potentially the only person the Veteran may come into contact with during a crisis and we want that situation to go as well as it possibly can,” said Vanderhoof. “We want police officers to know exactly what to look for so that they can minimize any possible triggers and keep the situation from escalating. We go over the signs and symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We also give them tips on how to approach Veterans.”
Along with VA Suicide Prevention staff, VA Police officers attend the Operation S.A.V.E. training which is held once a month at local police stations.
“We teach them to continue to remain calm and maintain eye contact with the Veteran,” said Capt. Anthony Jones, VA Police Officer. “If the Veteran is sitting, we recommend that they also sit with the Veteran. We recommend they turn off their front emergency lights and minimize any distractions.”
On May 8, VA staff visited the Bixby Police Department to provide Operation S.A.V.E. training. Jim White, Police Supervisor for Patrol, said the training gave him a better understanding of PTSD and how to interact with Veterans in general.
“The very first video had a big impact and helped us better recognize what PTSD is really about and what people really go through,” said White.
“I think it’s going to help us deal with Veterans in a different way because they’re just not like everybody else. They have different stressors and a lot of people don’t understand what they’ve been through. They have been through a lot of different scenarios while they were deployed in combat.”
Veterans Crisis Line
For immediate help through a crisis, Veterans or concerned family members or friends of a Veteran can contact the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1, using the online chat, or texting to 838255. These services provide free, confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.