When VA Providence Chief of Police John Thibodeau first met a struggling Veteran three years ago, it wasn’t under ideal conditions. He had to put the Veteran into custody for disorderly conduct at the medical center.

“When he realized what he did, he approached me a few days later, apologized, and asked for some guidance,” Thibodeau said.

Police chief talks with other officer.

VA Police Chief John Thibodeau talks with another Providence VA police officer.

Although he was there in a law enforcement capacity, Thibodeau, a Veteran and prior Marine Corps drill instructor, saw something in this young Veteran. He wanted to make sure he got all the help he deserved, so he gave his business card to the Veteran.

He told him if he ever needed anything to give him a call.

Veteran called three years later

Fast forward three years and Thibodeau received that phone call. “I had lost contact with him but he called me and I could tell by his mental state that he was in distress,” Thibodeau said. “He had no trust of anybody and he seemed paranoid. I asked him if he was going to hurt himself and he didn’t answer that question which is usually an indicator that means yes.”

Recognizing the Veteran needed immediate help, Thibodeau took action. “I convinced him to go to VA in Tucson,” he said. “He wouldn’t give me his location because he was afraid I was going to call the local authorities and get him in trouble. I convinced him to go to the bus stop and get on a bus. He said it would take him about 30 minutes to get to VA.”

While Thibodeau was on the phone with the Veteran, he was simultaneously working with Dave Reaves, acting chief of Police at VA Tucson. “I explained to him what was going on and my connection with this Veteran,” he added. “I explained that the kid needs help and if we don’t help, he’s going to hurt himself.”

Got the Veteran the health care he needed

The struggling Veteran took Thibodeau’s advice and he took the bus to VA Tucson. He had no trust in mental health providers, so, “I said go to the VA Police and show them my business card, and tell them you need some help,” he added.

The Veteran followed through. He met with Chief Reaves and the Deputy Police Chief Matthew Sita. They took him out to lunch to de-escalate the situation. They were then able to get the Veteran the health care and aid that he needed.

As of his last check with the police at Tucson VA, Thibodeau said the Veteran is doing much better and is getting the care he needs.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal, it’s just something we would normally do,” Thibodeau said. “I know any of the officers here in Providence would do something similar to make sure all Veterans get the help they need.”

By Russell Tippets, USCG Veteran, is a public affairs officer for the VA New England Healthcare System

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Published on Oct. 20, 2021

Estimated reading time is 2.5 min.

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  1. Wade Williams October 22, 2021 at 7:13 pm

    Did you ever go back to the Benefits Office and ask for your card? I know that it seems way wrong but it’s us, the Veteran, who has to follow up and get what we need.

  2. Ralph Michael Miller October 21, 2021 at 6:27 pm

    I do not expect you to provide me with an answer or a VA ID card! Surprise me!

  3. Ralph Michael Miller October 21, 2021 at 6:25 pm

    I enrolled in the VA Healthcare System in June 2012 and they took my picture for the VA ID card. They never gave me the card! I moved to Ohio and went to the VA in Mansfield, Ohio in 2018. They took my picture for the VA ID card and they never gave me the card! I had another card to be used with a local doctor and the man that took my picture threw that card away! Why did neither of those VA Healthcare locations give me a VA ID card?

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