I was moved almost to tears by a recent visit to my office by law enforcement officers. Sheriffs, deputies, state police, dispatchers, and local police were all represented as we squeezed into my Richmond office.
They had come to Richmond to thank me for securing $100,000 a year in the budget for a peer-run program designed to help people in law enforcement process the trauma they suffer in the course of their job. Many law enforcement personnel avoid professional psychiatric help. Some believe that it will damage their career, others think it shows weakness, and others believe no one outside of their own profession can understand their pain. Whatever the reason, they often suffer alone and isolated.
After the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, several Blacksburg area police officers realized they needed help to recover from the horror they had witnessed. They researched what other officers were doing and discovered a peer program in North Carolina and determined to bring the idea to Virginia.
VALEAP (Virginia Law Enforcement Assistance Program) is an all-volunteer program that was modeled after a highly effective FBI program. Post Critical-Incident Seminars are three day retreats that offer conversations, workshops, therapy, and fellowship. Participants are grouped based on the type of critical incidents they have suffered so that they share experiences with others who can offer insight and support. Mental health professionals are available. Each retreat has about forty first responders.
For the past ten years, Rev. Alex Evans, a Presbyterian minister in Richmond, raised contributions to defray the cost for hotels and meals. He was assisted in this by Jeff Gallagher, who heads up the Virginia Biotech Association and whom I have respected for several years. Currently their efforts are paying for two retreats a year for forty first responders each. Clearly, the need is greater.
The law enforcement officers who visited me shared their stories and the anguish they have felt. Often, the pain is cumulative as they witnessed multiple horrible crime scenes and car crashes over time. They shared how it impacted their marriages and relationships as they became more hardened and remote. Several used the word "numb" to describe their emotional state. I suppose a professional would call it PTSD.
VALEAF has profoundly helped these heroes. They wanted to thank me - and you, the taxpayers - for funding the program. I can't think of a better use of our tax dollars, can you?