Montgomery County law enforcement officers gathered this summer for two days of training in an effort to connect Veterans in crisis to the resources they need.
Coatesville VA and Montgomery County partnered to form a Veterans Response Team to strengthen the relationship between key county representatives, VA staff and community law enforcement agencies to train officers on how to help Veterans access their benefits.
Justice Outreach Social Worker Rhonda Sanford
The Veterans Response Team is an initiative proposed by Coatesville VAMC Veteran Justice Outreach Social Worker Rhonda Sanford.
When Sanford meets Veterans in her role as liaison to the criminal justice community in Montgomery County, it is usually at Veterans Court or at the jail. And it follows after a police officer has made first contact with those Veterans.
“We were missing opportunities.”
Sanford recognized the potential to connect Veterans with the programs and services available to them during an officer’s first contact in a way that results in a positive encounter rather than an arrest.
“We were missing opportunities,” said Sanford. “The hope was that by doing this sort of a team, we may catch Veterans that are in crisis.”
Veterans Response Team training educates law enforcement officers, who are also Veterans and have attended crisis intervention training, about services available to the Veterans they meet. The event also connects officers with partner organizations, giving them the opportunity to provide comfort and de-escalate a situation.
When Sanford pitched the idea to her partners within the Montgomery County agencies, they saw the potential benefits as well.
“How do we best serve this person?”
Montgomery County organizations and law enforcement officers during the Veterans Response Team training event
“Veterans response team is an opportunity to work collaboratively with other system partners and most importantly, with law enforcement officers who are on the front lines of supporting people out in the community on their hardest days,” said Anna Trout, Crisis and Diversion director, Montgomery County Office of Mental Health, who oversees crisis programing for the public mental health system and is one of those partners.
Officer Allison Delaney, assigned to the Abington Township Police Department’s Community Policing Division, describes her experience of being supported by a network of resources.
“The Veterans Response Team has given me a lot of resources that have helped me. I can lean on my friends, I can lean on my partners, and say, ‘How do we best serve this person?’”
“How do you find what you need?”
Sandford describes just how valuable collaboration across community partners can be at the moment a Veteran needs support. “Most of the time when I run into Veterans, they have no idea what they’re eligible for. VA is a huge system and if you don’t have a person you can call to help you navigate, how do you find what you need?”
Common resources Veterans Response Team representatives refer Veterans to include crisis intervention, housing, counseling support and health care.
Coatesville VA was recently designated “LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Top Performer” in the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Healthcare Equality Index. Coatesville VA prides itself on being a safe space for LGBTQ+ Veterans to receive health care services and encourage Veterans to “do ask and do tell” your care team to achieve your optimal health and well-being for the Veteran you are.