Many veterans when they return home from war face a war within themselves known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With between 10 and 20 percent of all veterans having PTSD, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there have been an increasing number of confrontations between law enforcement officials and veterans with the disorder.
To better understand PTSD and what to do when encountering a veteran showing signs of post-traumatic stress (PTS), a College of Communication Arts and Sciences team created a training video for law enforcement agencies to serve as a guide for how they can have a positive impact on veterans in their community who may be struggling with PTSD.
Funded by the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency (MVAA), the video was co-produced and directed by Amol Pavangadkar, Senior Producer and Specialist in the Department of Media and Information, and a team of 17 College of Communication Arts and Sciences students in collaboration with David Stephens, Executive in Residence in the School of Criminal Justice.
“We received phenomenal support from the Michigan State Police, police chiefs and sheriffs all over Michigan and their respective departments,” Pavangadkar said. “We worked with veterans from recent wars and going back to the Vietnam War, and their stories and experiences helped shape this training video.”
The short-length video, titled “Invisible Wounds: Preparing first responders for veterans with PTS,” is about 18 minutes long so it can be shown during shift changes before officers go on duty.
One goal of the video is to help officers recognize the most common PTSD symptoms, which include flashbacks; frightening thoughts; emotional distress; negative feelings about yourself or other people; inability to experience positive emotions; having overwhelming guilt, depression or worry; feeling emotionally numb or hopeless about the future; losing interest in activities that were once enjoyable; being easily startled; feeling tense or “on edge;” trouble concentrating; angry outbursts; self-destructive behavior; memory problems; and difficulty sleeping or maintaining close relationships.
“The interesting thing with post-traumatic stress, as is the case with most disorders, is that while there are a set of symptoms, which tend to be somewhat universal and commonly shared, it is highly individualized,” said Robert Fabiano, a Psychologist who was interviewed for the video. “So two individuals who experience similar events may have entirely different reactions.”
Several veterans were interviewed for the video and shared their stories. Due to post-traumatic stress, the veterans say they have lost marriages and have dealt with isolation, alcoholism, drugs and out-of-control anger.
“This is a very real subject and it plays out on 22 veterans a day on average who commit suicide,” said Jeff Barnes, Director of the Michigan Veteran’s Affairs Agency. “But the resources are just as real and a lot of times what we find is we don’t make that connection in enough time. So our goal with this is to let people know there are options available and to let veterans know they are not in this alone.”
The video offers these keys to a good officer/veteran interaction:
- Use police officers who are veterans if available
- Slow the situation down
- Be a good listener
- Be empathetic and convey respect
- Ask them about their service or their family
- Get on their level
- Allow event ownership to provide a sense of control
"One thing I thought was interesting is that a law enforcement response to a situation involving a veteran undergoing a PTSD episode is somewhat contrary or counter-intuitive to the usual procedures an officer employs when arriving on scene, which emphasizes the importance of the training," Stephens said.
Making an Impact
A premiere of the video was held last June in Studio 134-D of the Communication Arts and Sciences Building. It also was shown to the Governor's Council on Law Enforcement and Reinvention. The video is now being used at law enforcement agencies across the state. It can be viewed in three different parts:
Veterans, law enforcement officers and those who worked on the project attended the premiere.
“For all you students, you have no idea the kind of impact you have made with a single video that is not even 20 minutes long,” Barnes said after the screening. “So on behalf of the nearly 700,000 veterans in the state of Michigan, I thank you for the work you have done and the time you contributed to it.”
The students who worked on the project did so as a way to gain real-world experience.
“This is the first time I had ever worked on something where I was really using the stuff I had learned in class professionally,” said senior Media and Information major Trevor Ferla, who was one of the videographers on the project. “Beyond that, I learned a lot about people with PTSD. Doing those interviews and hearing the stories and the ways that you can help people, that also was a big part of the project for me.”
To honor their efforts, Pavangadkar and Stephens were each presented with MVAA Directors medallions for exemplary service towards veterans.
Currently, the 34 hours of video footage collected for this project is being edited and repurposed to create a general outreach and information feature to air on WKAR-TV early next year.
By Kimberly Popiolek, Communications Manager
Share via these networks: