On July 28, Ben Shaw, a peer specialist for the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, led the officers of the Albemarle County Police Department through training on the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries in veterans readjusting to civilian life.
“It is my hope that officers are better equipped to spot signs that a veteran may be struggling,” said Shaw. “Regardless of if it’s a coworker, a neighbor, or somebody they encounter while on duty. As not only servants in a community but also as residents, police officers are a great asset in terms of their knowledge and reach.”
Shaw, who served two tours in Iraq as an infantry Marine and a third as a foreign weapons instructor, spoke candidly about his own transition from executing combat missions in the Sunni Triangle to waiting in line at Starbucks.
According to Shaw, the difficulties of readjusting to civilian life can be understood in terms of encoded responses to stress as well as crises of personal identity, both of which push many veterans toward substance abuse, spousal difficulties and depression.
Now, as an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, his remarks come in the wake of the VA’s announcement that last year, veterans accounted for roughly 20 percent of the estimated 30,000 annual suicides in the United States, an increased number of which involved the purposeful provocation of lethal force from law enforcement officers.
“Veterans don’t hurt you guys,” said Shaw. “We hurt ourselves. But if officers are familiar with the possible symptoms of PTSD, they can better make recommendations as to where people might seek treatment.”
Shaw had previously spoken with the ACPD’s negotiations team on crisis resolution in PTSD sufferers. “Extending the conversation to officers was naturally the next step,” said Albemarle Police Sergeant Darrell Byers. “It was something we all needed to hear, but officers deal with people first.”
Shaw’s approach is in many ways an extension of the normal Crisis Intervention Training curriculum for the ACPD. Eighty-two percent of Albemarle County police officers have gone through CIT training, a 40-hour week-long class in which officers are taught to communicate with individuals in critical states and refer them to mediatory and therapeutic resources.
“We’re taught how to recognize certain issues and deal with them without having to put people behind bars,” said Byers. “But PTSD issues also have bearing on our in-house counseling for our own officers. You have officers that are involved in shootings or who continuously see violent crime scenes, and these things have an adverse affect on us. We’re just as human as everybody else.”