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Monday, April 16, 2007

Wisconsin Law Enforcement Proactive in Meeting Needs of Veteran and Community

Good to see such programs springing up across the country. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

What would be considered road rage on Wisconsin highways is normal driving for a U.S. military member at the wheel of a Humvee in Iraq. What could be considered assault or inappropriate aggressiveness at a Madison bar is behavior and split-second violent decision-making that could keep a soldier alive in a combat zone.

U.S. military members in Iraq and Afghanistan must carry their weapons wherever they go, but in Wisconsin it's illegal to carry concealed weapons. Veterans now returning from war often have difficulty moving from one culture to another - the culture of war, death and violence to the culture of home, peace and family. Some make the transition smoothly; others don't.

Which is why a group of Madison police officers intently watched a PowerPoint presentation last week on the effects of combat stress and post-traumatic stress. Because some Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are crossing paths with law enforcement, the Madison Police and Dane County Sheriff's departments are requiring all sworn officials to go through an hourlong session to help them understand why some veterans are getting into trouble and, more important, how to help them.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

In the interest of education, article quoted from extensively.


Although the majority of U.S. military members serving in a war zone return to civilian life with few problems, combat veterans are at a high risk of post-traumatic stress and other mental health problems, said Jeff Johnson, a state Department of Veterans Affairs official who is handling the training for law officers. They're also less likely to seek help. ...

Johnson, who was a Marine recruiter in Wisconsin for many years, recounted the story of a Marine he knew who was home on leave during his second tour of Iraq. He was at a tavern when he saw a man touch the shirt of the Marine's girlfriend. The Marine broke the man's jaw and gave him a concussion. He later sought alcohol treatment and is now out of the military, going to college and receiving disability payments for post-traumatic stress. "There's a unique set of stressors coming out of this war," said Johnson, who retired from the Marines in 2003 and now operates Mission: Welcome Home for the Department of Veterans Affairs. His son arrived in Iraq last month with the Marines.

High on the list of stresses: not knowing who the enemy is and not knowing if someone will try to kill them. Returning to civilian life after months or a year or more of being hyper-vigilant is difficult, said Johnson, who told the police officers that the warning signs of post-traumatic stress include aggressive driving, inappropriate aggression, alcohol abuse, carrying a weapon because they feel safer armed, being secretive, angry or detached.

Over 800 deputies and police officers have gone through Johnson's program to date where he equips attendees with knowledge, skills and resources that will later help them in the field.

"For once we're a little out front on this topic. We haven't seen tons and tons of this stuff but enough to" schedule the training, said Madison Police Sgt. Lauri Schwartz. "It's kind of like 'Oh, I wouldn't have connected the dots without the presentation.'"

Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive from law enforcement officers, including those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan with the National Guard or Reserves, said Schwartz and Dane County Sheriff's Sgt. Lorie Wiessinger. Wiessinger said she didn't realize that military members who always carried weapons in a combat zone sometimes feel the need to carry a weapon when they're back home, something law enforcement officers should know when responding.

So far, Dane County and Madison are the only Wisconsin agencies undergoing this type of training. Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. was not aware of the training, said department spokeswoman Kim Brooks, but it does refer veterans who come in contact with sheriff's deputies to the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies.

Johnson says the program also helps officers have a deeper understanding of the bond they share with veterans, and the training can also help to identify possible problems in their own ranks.

"When they stop and think about what these men and women went through (in Iraq or Afghanistan), you can see the emotions from the police who themselves have seen it in the line of duty," Johnson said.

If I had my way, this type of program would spread like wildfire across the country.

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