By Devese “Dee” Ursery
The Troy Police Department in collaboration with local VFW Post 976 is implementing a new program to aid veterans in distress.
Troy Police Officer Tony Luther is taking the lead in trying to build a rapport with veterans through a new initiative called Operation Warfighters. The program was initiated Nov.1 and aims to help police engaged with veterans in crisis to help get them the resources they may need.
Military veterans in crisis are considered those who are in emotional, physical, or mental distress, according to www.va.gov.
Luther, who has taught crisis intervention for the past 12 years for the Troy Police Department and throughout the state of Illinois, said that the idea came about while on call last summer.
Luther was responding to a mental wellness call involving a veteran with PTSD. Luther said the veteran was paranoid and did want to talk to police. They talked to the veteran for about three hours until he eventually settled down. By the end of the ordeal he was given a summons for the situation, but he also gave me a hug and thanked me for listening, Luther said.
“Sometimes on the street as police officers it’s hard for us to build a rapport with the veterans,” Luther said. “Especially those who have been deployed because we don’t know what they’ve been through. They are more apt to talk to another veteran than anyone else”
VFW Commander Anthony Avers explained that Post 976 will help by providing veterans for the program to help mentor veterans in crisis that the police department may come across on a call.
“We are here to help build a rapport with the veteran and police department,” Avers said. “We want to assist in any way that we can, such as getting them in the V.A. system. Also creating a support network that they can turn to.”
It’s a two-pronged program, according to Luther, where the first part is a mentorship program with the police department being a liaison between veterans and finding them mentors. The mentors are a list of local veterans located at the police station and available to police officers on the street to help better communicate with veterans.
When police are engaged with a veteran in crisis they can call dispatch and be transferred to a veteran on the mentor list, giving that veteran another veteran to talk to.
“If a crime is committed, it won’t negate the arrest factor,” Luther said. “But a lot of times, on calls dealing with veterans in distress there is a gray area where we know there are resources out there, we just don’t know what they are.”
The second part of the program is to provide veterans with resources. There is a business card that police officers pass out to veterans in crisis. The card has both VFW Post 976 and Troy Police Department logos and phone numbers on front. On back of the card are emergency numbers for 911, suicide hotline and suicide prevention.
Also on the back of the card is a QR code that is loaded with a number of resources to help with issues that they may be dealing with. Luther said the idea of the QR code is that it can be updated without any interruption. If new resources arise they are simply added to the list and updated.
A plan is still in the works to talk with the Vietnam Veterans Club in regards to signing members to the mentor list. There are currently seven mentors on the list, including Mike Brown, Gene Martin, and Anthony Avers, from the VFW. Mayor David Nonn, is on the secondary list. Theresa Blaes, dispatcher for the Troy police and a military veteran is also on the mentor list. Luther plans to reach out to Scott Air Force Base for assistance as well.
Nonn explained that veterans should be first and foremost because they’re the ones actually sacrificing their body and mind for what we all take for granted – freedoms and liberties.
“It makes me proud to see that we’re finally addressing some of the issues that our returning have,” Nonn said. “Some of these guys come back with pretty bad scars, both emotionally and physically.”