When a military veteran is in crisis, the police would rather have other service agencies involved before they get the call to intervene.
That is why the Maricopa Police Department used February’s Coffee with the Chief session to bring in a full delegation of organizations prepared to help veterans through a variety of issues.
“Cops can’t fix everything,” Chief Steve Stahl said at Saturday’s event.
MPD uses veterans as resources and to train its officers in how to deal with veterans in crisis. MPD has veterans within its ranks as well. But that is not a cure-all.
Stahl pointed out the two officers involved in the killing of an Iraq War veteran in Cobblestone Farms in January were both veterans themselves. The incident, which is still under investigation, was triggered by 911 calls from the home of Johnathon Guillory and a subsequent confrontation in which Guillory allegedly threatened Sgt. Leonard Perez and Officer Joshua Hawksworth with a weapon.
“There are so many services they can call before calling the police,” Stahl said. “We bring something no one else does, and that’s a gun.”
While many people are too embarrassed to call 911 because of the attention a police vehicle will bring to their home, other organizations arrive far less conspicuously to help, he said.
Alex Taylor, military liaison at La Frontera’s Empact Suicide Prevention Center, said of the 100 suicides in the country every day, 22 of them are veterans. He called that “a travesty.”
Added to that, there is an average of one active-duty suicide a day, Tracy Davis of the Blue Star Mothers of Maricopa said.
“We’re not veterans, we’re moms, but we want to take care of our kids,” Davis said.
Working in Maricopa, Tempe and Glendale, Empact is free to veterans. The program offers counseling, evaluation, outpatient services and case management. When a crisis situation shows a need to be transported to a clinic or other crisis location, Empact will pick up the veteran and take them there.
“A combat veteran in crisis wants to talk to another combat veteran,” Taylor said.
Mike Kemery, commander of Maricopa’s Veterans of Foreign Wars post, said the Veterans Suicide Prevention bill signed by President Obama on Thursday will provide direct funding to the Veterans Administration to hire more mental health practitioners.
Arizona Counseling and Treatment Services (ACTS), a provider for Cenpatico, offers peer support services, counseling, job skills services and psychiatric health services. According to Michelle Shook , human resources manager for ACTS, by contract they respond within an hour of a call, but by practice they try to arrive within half an hour.
La Frontera’s Military Veteran Navigator helps service members and veterans and their families map out services for their individual needs, including housing and food.
Maricopa’s American Legion post is working to involve family members, Commander Christopher Flores said.
“They are the first line of defense,” he said.
Flores and Kemery said they need more volunteers to locate and deliver resources for Maricopa’s veteran population, which is estimated at more than 4,000. That is nearly 10 percent of the city’s population, when the national average is 2-3 percent.
“All of us have been there,” Kemery said. “A lot of us really understand or at least are trying to understand today’s problems like PTSD.”
Guillory reportedly suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Stahl said, more than once, no matter what or who is involved, “I defend my officers’ right to defend their lives and the community.”
Community Bridges Inc. offers several services for veterans, from substance abuse recovery to transitioning into civilian life. They have six-month housing funding that is fully subsidized for three months and tiered down to 75 percent and 50 percent in the subsequent months until the veteran is ready to go it alone.
The Maricopa (County) Association of Governments also provides training in PTSD and traumatic brain injury along with help in domestic violence situations.
Kim Rodriguez, chairperson of Honoring/Hiring/Helping Our Heroes of Pinal County (HOHP), said Pinal County veterans are underserved. She said there are veterans living in the desert who have detached themselves from all society.
“We are not just veterans helping veterans,” she said. “As community members we owe them for signing on that dotted line.”
HOHP purchased a recreational vehicle (now dubbed Big Bertha) for $1 from Pinal County to be a mobile veterans’ outreach center. Once the vehicle is “wrapped” with its own identifying exterior, it will travel to communities within the county to deliver support services.
What Big Bertha needs now, Rodriguez said, is donations and gas cards to help fund that travel, as well as volunteer drivers.
Kemery said while some military veterans do not want to be involved in an organization like the VFW or American Legion or don’t quite qualify, the groups can still link them to resources for any help they need. The MPD website provides links to resources and crisis hotlines, but Kemery said the VFW and American Legion should have those available, too.
The Coffee with the Chief session drew mostly veterans and members of the MPD.
Taylor said he felt the event was a success. He said if those attending spread the word about the services, the law of six degrees of separation would reach 2,000 people.