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Here’s how three Mass. police departments are expanding care to veterans

Thea Schlieben, from left, Jacob Laughlin, Daniel Phillips, and Emma Reilly, members of the Veterans Engagement Team, a coalition that will provide more outreach to veterans and people who served in the military in Amherst, Easthampton and Hadley. (Namu Sampath/

Three Pioneer Valley police departments now provide officers to a veterans response and outreach team.

The Easthampton, Hadley and Amherst departments are working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Central Western Massachusetts Health Care System on a pilot program called the Veterans Engagement Team (VET). This coalition provides support and follow-ups by first responders to anyone who has served in the military, as well as their families.

“This is to show that we care and to tell them that we see them,” said Jacob Laughlin, a Hadley patrol officer.

Laughlin and Daniel Phillips, an evening shift sergeant, are Hadley officers taking part; officers in Easthampton and Amherst are also involved.

“Police are traditionally seen as enforcers, but that is not our role here,” said Laughlin. “We want to get people connected to resources and give people the tools to meet with someone who has the tools to help them.”

Almost 5% of the population of Hampshire County are veterans, according to the U.S. Census.

Both Laughlin and Phillips have a personal connection to this mission: they served in the military, as did half the police force in Hadley, as well as officers in Easthampton and Amherst.

Still, training for all officers in all three departments is a requirement.

“It was important we teach all officers from each of our three departments the ‘why’ of this program,” said Kyle Gribi, a sergeant in Easthampton’s department.

The training included cultural sensitivity for officers who aren’t veterans. Participants receive training monthly.

“These officers have an immense breadth of experience, both having served in the military and now as police,” said Thea Schlieben, community engagement and partnerships coordinator for the Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System.

Schlieben said officers from all three departments are deeply engaged in the program’s mission. “We’ve also seen more interest in this program than we thought we would,” Phillips said.

The coalition seeks to allow residents to build better relationships with the police.

“Officers are going back to places where there was a crisis and making relationships with community,” said Schlieben.

The coalition is rolling out a related program, “Caring Contact,” that encourages officers to check in with people. The goal is to engage at the early stages of a crisis, whether it is about relationships, money, housing or loneliness.

A prepared card provides the phone number of a mental health help line, 988, and the extension that connects a caller with the Veterans Association.

“This is suicide prevention from a public health perspective,” said Schlieben.

If you or someone you know is a veteran or served in the military and needs help, dial 988 and press 1.


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