COATESVILLE, PA — Coatesville VAMC and Montgomery County announced that they have partnered to form a Veterans Response Team (VRT) 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.
The Veterans Response Team is an initiative proposed by Coatesville VAMC Veteran Justice Outreach Social Worker, Rhonda Sanford, that has had success in other communities across the country.
In her role as a liaison to the criminal justice community in Montgomery County, when Sanford meets Veterans, it is normally at Veterans Court or at the jail and only follows after a police officer has made first contact with those Veterans.
Sanford stated that she recognized the potential to connect a Veteran 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.”
VRT training educates law enforcement officers, who are also Veterans and have attended crisis intervention training, on 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.
Anna Trout, the Crisis and Diversion Director for the Montgomery County Office of Mental Health, oversees crisis programming for the public mental health system and is one of those partners.
“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.”
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.
“I reached the end of my line relatively quickly in terms of what’s in my scope of being a police officer. [VRT] has given me a lot of resources that have helped me, and I can lean on my friends, I can lean on my partners and say, ‘How do we best serve this person?'”
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 VRT representatives refer Veterans to include crisis intervention, housing, counseling support and health care.
If you need to connect a Veteran in crisis with a caring, qualified Veteran Crisis Line responder any time of day, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, select 1.
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