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First Responders seeking to make ties with veterans living in Massena

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MASSENA — Several weeks ago, village police responded to a report of a domestic violence incident, but when they arrived on the scene they discovered the call from a concerned neighbor was actually a combat veteran alone engaged in a strategy he had developed with his family to work his way through a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder episode.

“I met with the combat veteran and his wife,” Massena Village Police Chief Timmy J. Currier said. “I came away with a much better understanding of the daily challenges some of our returning vets and know we have to bridge the gap with the first responders.

It wasn’t the only complaint the department has received in recent months involving combat veterans. “I found that particularly with PTSD veterans we have a real gap in our knowledge and training in how to deal with that unique issue,” he said.

He said one of his first steps was to approach the We Care team - a group of professionals, primarily a group of religious leaders - that was formed to work with the police department earlier this year to address concerns over a significant increase in the number of suicides taking place in the community.

“We brainstormed and one of the first steps we thought we should take was to reach out to the veterans, provide a meal and look to get input from them,” Mr. Currier said.

The meal for veterans will be held at 6 p.m. Monday at the DOC building at 56-58 Main St., the former St. Lawrence Gas office located next to the Massena Town Hall. The meal will include sandwich wraps, seasonal soup, salad, light desserts, soft drinks, coffee and water.

Mr. Currier said the We Care team and the police department will be partnering with Silent Siren, an organization founded to assist emergency responders deal with issues involving veterans suffering from PTSD. “They will be coming here in a couple of months to provide training,” he noted.

Silent Siren recommends the establishment of a registry so emergency responders can be prepared and aware when they respond to calls at households with residents suffering with PTSD. Mr. Currier said the team will also be partnering with Hospice so first responders are better able to deal with the issues in the community.

“It’s a unique set of circumstances, and the training will provide emergency responders with things they can do and things they shouldn’t do so it doesn’t escalate. We’re dealing with veterans who are used to being armed and on high alert 24/7 not knowing who the enemy is. During a PTSD episode, they might not be able to understand the first responder is a friendly, not a threat. It is real important for the emergency responders to have the training so they can try to de-escalate a situation,” Mr. Currier said.

The village’s police chief said he doesn’t know how many veterans suffering from PTSD currently live in Massena. “St. Lawrence County tells me there are 9,000 veterans in the county, and Massena’s population is about 10 percent of the county’s population so there are probably 800 to 1,000 veterans living here. How many of those are combat veterans, I don’t know,” he acknowledged.

Mr. Currier said he has been in contact with representatives of the various veterans’ organizations in Massena as well as officials from the North Country Veteran’s Clinic at Massena Memorial Hospital. “We’ve been in contact with them to get advice on how best to connect with the veterans. The response has been positive,” he said.

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