Air Force veteran Nick Blalock was in crisis and felt he had just “lost it.” His life was not going well shortly after he left the military, and when his girlfriend left him and took their dog with her, his only sources of comfort were gone.
“I exploded and everything that I’d been holding in and dealing with came to a head,” he said.
Nick’s father called police for help and mentioned his son’s veteran status to the dispatcher, who sent officers who were also veterans.
“The veterans who responded took it upon themselves to identify themselves as veterans and it put us on that level playing field to bring my tension and my anger down.” Nick said.
The encounter did more than just help Nick begin to get through his time of crisis. The City of Apex, NC, police officers involved were inspired to create specialized training for first responders who have served in the military so they could better assist veterans in crisis.
“There wasn’t any training that I could find going on anywhere in the country,” said Blair Myhand, one of the original officers involved and now chief of the Clayton Police Department. He realized that forging a personal connection with a law enforcement officer who understands the military experience could offer a lifeline to veterans struggling with mental illness, substance abuse, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Officer Myhand reached out to Alliance Health, a national leader in providing 40-hour Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training developed to give first responders the skills to de-escalate dangerous situations involving people in behavioral health crisis and refer individuals, when appropriate, to treatment instead of emergency departments or jail.
The partnership led to the development of Veterans Crisis Intervention Team (VCIT) training, an innovative 16-hour module addition to CIT that explores the ways officers can use their shared military experiences to assist veterans in crisis. VCIT is only available to first responders who are veterans and have completed the main CIT training.
“More departments are recognizing the unique needs of veterans and the importance of handling their crisis situations appropriately,” said Alliance Criminal Justice Specialist Roosevelt Richard.
Nearly 200 first responders from all four North Carolina counties in Alliance’s coverage area–Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland–now use the training, which is also spreading across the country thanks to “Train the Trainer” courses offered by Alliance. Twenty-two people from other states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio and Vermont have come to Wake County to learn how to train their teams on this curriculum.