As a combat veteran of Iraq, Jackson County sheriff's Deputy David Duke knows about the stresses of war.
But the veteran police officer didn't have specific training to deal with a veteran's post traumatic stress disorder or related issues until he and several Medford Police Department officers recently completed critical incident training in Salt Lake City.
Now the sheriff's department and local law enforcement agencies, including the MPD, are working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide similar local training for officers.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen local officers participated in training at the VA's Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics in White City to help them better understand the behavioral and psychological issues involving veterans who may be suffering from PTSD.
"To put it simply, this is training for law enforcement officers on the street to recognize mentally unstable people and to handle those situations in an appropriate manner," said Duke, 37, a former Army staff sergeant who served in Iraq in 2006-07.
"Law enforcement is going a whole new direction these days in dealing with these types of situations," he added, noting that police officers are dealing with more PTSD issues in recent years, as veterans return from Afghanistan and Iraq.
While most veterans don't have PTSD issues, the training provides needed guidance for those times when it is a problem, he said.
"What is great about this training is that it shows officer how to not give up their authority but to treat these veterans with respect, which they deserve," he said, adding the goal is to get all the local law enforcement officers certified in the training as soon as possible."
During Wednesday's training, officers heard from veterans, psychologists, a veteran's spouse and others who have an intimate perspective on understanding and helping a veteran in a crisis.
"When we are talking about a crisis, it could be anything involving a veteran at risk — a domestic situation, under the influence, suicidal," said Chris Petrone, Iraq and Afghanistan Program manager at the SORCC.
"We want to enhance the officers' training and tactical skills to help them defuse situations," he added. "When they start talking to a veteran, this helps the veteran understand the officers have protocol to follow, that they are there to do a job, to make sure everybody gets through the situation OK. That often leads to a successful conclusion."
In addition to addressing PTSD, the training areas include brain injury symptoms and depression, he noted.
"We want the officers to understand specific conditions, to provide them with awareness and skills on how to deal with them," Petrone said.
While the program focuses on improved communications between an officer and a veteran, there is also an effort to improve communications between local law enforcement agencies and the VA, he said.
"If there is a veteran in crisis, we want them to be able to contact the correct person in the VA to get help for that veteran," he stressed.
Noting that most officers don't receive specific training to deal with such incidents, Duke said the program gives officers options.
"We are not just showing up on scene, putting people in handcuffs and being done with it," he said. "Our goal is to get people on the correct path to get the treatment they need."
That will save officers time —— and taxpayers money — in the long run, organizers said.
"This means we're not dealing with them day after day and putting them into detox or whatever," he said. "We want to fix the problem as a whole and get them the help they need."
One issue he has seen among combat veterans is survival guilt and attempted suicide.
"A lot of veterans are coming back and thinking about the fact they made it through and their partners didn't," Duke said. "Being a veteran, I can relate to them and speak to them about it.
"At that point I am not just a law enforcement figure," he added. "I am a fellow veteran, a brother who has been there."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.