A new program to help police officers assist safelyin Crisis is now available to police services across the country.
Released in September by thethe is the product of years of work by two Canadian Forces soldiers turned police officers with the goal of helping veterans experiencing or a crisis.
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The program provides training to police officers so they can better respond to veterans they encounter in the line of duty, taking into account both their military training and their potential experience of severe trauma.
It also provides officers with a referral form to easily connect veterans with the wealth of supports they are entitled to receive but may otherwise be difficult to access.
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“The social services that we have partnered with for this program have saved my life,” Const said. Jeremy Burns, one of the program’s co-founders, who knows all too well how the trauma of military service can linger long after veterans return home.
“We lost 14 on our tour, but I lost several more when I came home,” Burns said. “I don’t know what is more tragic.”
Burns served three and a half years with the Canadian Forces stationed in Edmonton with Princess Patricia’s First Battalion, Canadian Light Infantry.
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After moving to Afghanistan in 2009, Burns said she came home a different person, struggling to fit into the society she fought to uphold.
“I really had to become a very different kind of person to go to war and serve,” he said. “Being hyper vigilant in a war zone is great, but if I’m on hyper vigilance all the time at home, that’s exhausting and that really sets you apart from everyone else.”
Burns found kinship with fellow veteran Const. Aaron Dale. The couple met in 2018, when they both signed their contracts to join the Toronto Police Service.
Dale served approximately five years with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), an elite special forces unit that is deployed around the world, specializing in operating in high-risk environments.
Bringing the unit together proved more difficult than expected, as Dale missed his colleagues and struggled to find a new purpose.
He credits Burns with helping him cope with that loss of identity and encouraging him to seek help.
“He sat me down and said, ‘Hey, you’re not as good as you could be right now. There is no shame in asking for help. Let’s ask for help,’” Burns said.
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Veterans often face challenges stemming from their military service, including mental and physical health disorders, difficulties integrating into civilian life, and a reluctance to seek help, stemming from a military culture that values toughness and perseverance.
Afound that the transition to civilian life can be especially challenging, with 36 percent of veterans reporting theirs as very or moderately difficult.
“They feel so separate from everyone,” said Geneviève Boudreault, a psychologist specializing in combat stress and post-traumatic stress disorder who helped develop the Veterans Wellness Program.
“Add to that irritability and coping mechanisms like alcohol or drugs — that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Without support, these challenges can leave veterans out of work, struggling to manage relationships, and more likely to find themselves on the streets and, in some cases, interacting with police in crisis mode.
“There’s a lot of help out there, but it’s hard to navigate, it’s hard to ask for help, and it’s hard to do that when you’re hurting,” Dale said.
Burns and Dale soon realized that others shared their struggle and worse, as they encountered veterans in crisis while on the job: men and women who had served their country and protected others, now on the other end of a phone call. 911.
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One of those veterans was Garett Oliver, who was living in his truck when he met Dale while experiencing a mental health crisis.
Oliver said that getting help from a fellow veteran, who knew what resources could help him beyond his immediate crisis, was invaluable in turning his life around.
“He was able to guide me down a path that I needed to follow to fix my circumstance in life,” she said. “I owe him and Jeremy the world for what they did for me.”
It’s experiences like these that led Burns and Dale to create the Military Veterans Wellness Program in the first place.
Developed in partnership with the Ontario Provincial Police, the Toronto Police Military Veterans Association, the Royal Canadian Legion, Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces Operational Stress Injury Social Support program, the program combines Burns and Dale’s first-hand experience as veterans with more recent experience in the mental health, incident response, and de-escalation fields.
Burns and Dale hope that police forces across the country will embrace the program, especially as more veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan leave the Canadian Forces.
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Although homeless veterans and suicide remain daunting challenges, Burns says she hopes the program helps those who so selflessly served their country get the help they need and deserve.
“No matter what difficulty they are struggling with, there is something available to help them,” Burns said. “We just have to get to a point where we all feel comfortable asking for that help.”
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