New federal law provides more mental health resources for first responders

HENRICO, Virginia (WWBT) – For police and other first responders, an average day on the job can be a taxing and emotional journey, but new federal law aims to help those who help us.

Last week, President Joe Biden signed the Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support Counseling Act, or COPS Counseling Act, to provide more mental health resources for first responders.

The bill obliges the Department of Justice to set out requirements for peer support programs.

A peer support program is a program provided by a law enforcement agency that provides counseling services from a peer support specialist to an agency law enforcement officer, this whose Henrico County Police Division was already at the top.

Henrico is just a handful of other police departments accredited by the stress management and peer support team at the Virginia Department of Health. The main objective is to help first responders who never ask for help.

“What we’re trying to do is not become advisers, but the main goal is just to give the agents resources to contact,” said Lt. Christopher Kovach, who helps oversee the program with the Henrico police said. “Catching people who might follow through the cracks, who may not feel comfortable going to a professional mental health expert. “

Kovach says the way the program works is that a police officer can be referred to the peer support team after being involved in a critical incident, such as a car accident or violent crime. He says these are calls that typically impact an officer’s mental health.

According to a to study, law enforcement officers are 54% more likely to kill themselves than the average American.

“A person in their life may have suffered a year and a half to two critical incidents in their lifetime; your average 20-year-old officer will go well over 800, ”Kovach said.

The peer support team is not limited to police officers, but is for all first responders in the county, including those who answer the first call for help at the dispatch center.

“We’ll also send someone to your communications office, as jurisdictions often forget that their 911 operators are the first responders, and just hearing something on the phone can be just as traumatic, if not more, than hearing it. see it in person, ”says Kovach.

President Biden also signed the U.S. First Responder Protection Act 2021, which aims to provide better access to benefits for people with disabilities in the performance of their duties.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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