"I just didn't think it was going to be as great of a relationship as it has turned out to be. Their communications and their feedback, I'm blown away by it."
That's what Detective Brendan Dougherty from the Upper Marion Township Police Department said when asked about his experience on the Veterans Response Team (VRT).
He has been in constant contact with other VRT members while supporting a Montgomery County Veteran through their 18-month wellness journey and it has opened Detective Dougherty's eyes to what this team can accomplish when they all commit to being accessible and helping the Veterans in their community.
What is the Veterans Response Team
The VRT is a network of people who already serve the citizens of Montgomery County and who work together to connect Veterans with the many programs and services available to them at the county, state and federal level. The team is designed around the current trends in the county's Veteran population, the needs of first responders in the field, and the resources available from our all our partners, explains Anna Trout, Crisis and Diversion Director for the Montgomery County Office of Mental Health.
Having an established Veterans Response Team network isn't just helping Veterans in crisis, it's helping the police officers, first responders and the departments who saw the value in having trained VRT members in their community and encouraged them to sign up.
Benefits beyond the Veteran in crisis
Even the law enforcement officers who are Veterans are surprised at how much they have learned since joining. Team members are quick to admit that they were unaware of many of the benefits they are eligible for until they started helping other Veterans.
"First responders who have gone through the process of accessing the care and benefits they deserve themselves can better help their fellow Veterans," explains Trout.
That's why every first responder who joins VRT is encouraged to apply for benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and to sign up with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs registry.
Trout shares the intangible benefits of VRT members accessing the VA resources they need and how she sees it impacting their police department and their community.
"VRT benefits everybody because then those police officers are coming to the job to serve and protect as a well and whole human, and they bring their best self to the job."
Veterans helping Veterans is having unexpected benefits for VRT members.
"I didn't realize it until, we saw our first success with the program, but the officers get just as much out of [helping fellow Veterans] as those they are helping."
Chief of Police at Lower Providence Township Police Department, Michael Jackson, said, his department was getting called out several times a week to one location for domestic disturbances. During one visit, a police officer saw something that tipped him off that there was a Marine Corps Veteran in the home. After confirming that one of them was a Veteran, the officer got permission from the Marine to call in Corporal Justin Hubert, Lower Providence Township officer and Marine Corps Veteran, who has combat experience and recently completed VRT training.
The two began talking and Hubert deescalated the situation. He discovered this Marine also had combat experience. The visits went from confrontational to check-ins and the Veteran told Hubert things he never told anyone else. Hubert connected the Veteran to VA resources and eventually the domestic disturbance calls stopped all together.
It's a no brainer
Following that first visit with the Veteran two things happened. The first was the Marine Corps Veteran called Chief Jackson and thanked him because he had never had a positive interaction with the police, ever. According to Jackson, the second was that Officer Hubert was overwhelmed by a sense of satisfaction in helping someone who had walked in his shoes, someone he was uniquely qualified to help.
Chief Jackson explained why VRT is growing so quickly in Montgomery County.
"It's a no brainer because it costs the department nothing," said Jackson said, when describing the decision to offer officers the opportunity to be VRT members. "It's another tool in the toolkit for law enforcement to deescalate situations and build relationships." Jackson explained, having VRT trained officers is helping his whole department because other officers understand the power of calling in someone who can make that personal connection and have better odds of turning a negative encounter into a positive one.
If you know a Veteran who may be entitled to VA benefits and is not enrolled, even if they a have applied for benefits before, encourage them to call 610-383-0266 or visit Coatesville VA's register for care page at Coatesville VA Medical Center who serves Veterans in Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties.
If you are a military Veteran in Crisis, service member, their family or caregiver, call the Veterans Crisis Line by dialing 988 then Press 1.