The program is called Battle Buddy, and its goal is for participating officers to connect with veterans before a crisis occurs, working with them “after a negative event in their lives to reduce recidivism,” according to the Joliet Police Department’s Battle Buddy program website.
We’re not mental health professionals. We’re just there to listen if they need somebody to talk to and get them the extra help if they need it.”— Joliet Police Department Sgt. Chad Evans, founder of the Battle Buddy program
“As I was working the streets, I was noticing a pretty good uptick in calls for veterans in crisis,” Evans said. “And it kind of clicked that we can, as first responders, should try to do something to help these veterans coming back from the wars with issues.”
A 2015 abstract titled “US veterans and their unique issues: enhancing health care professional awareness,” said the “distinct culture” of veterans includes “values, customs, ethos, selfless duty, codes of conduct, implicit patterns of communication and obedience to command.”
The abstract also said that “veterans experience mental health disorders, substance use disorders, post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury at disproportionate rates compared to their civilian counterparts.”
Evans, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1991, said he knew people who struggled with various issues after they returned home.
“And we weren’t really doing anything for them,” Evans said. “There was no outlet for them to even talk to somebody.”
Evans said he found that talking to veterans, when they were “having a rough day,” gave them that outlet. He named the program Battle Buddy because “when you go into the Army, you get assigned a battle buddy” to help you and keep you accountable.
“And that person is with you throughout your training,” Evans said. “You just look out for each other.”
How the program works
Evans said that when calls come in, dispatch asks whether a person is suicidal, despondent and if they are veteran.
“If they are, that’s when we check to see if one of us is working,” Evans said. “They get dispatched to the call with the primary officer.”
The Battle Buddy talks with the veteran to gauge where that person is mentally and if that person is in crisis, Evans said.
“We get them to the hospital, at least,” Evans said. “We get them to where we make sure they are safe and physically well.”
After that, the Battle Buddy program connects veterans with resources in the community, beyond the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Evans said.
“Sometimes people just need extra help,” Evans said. “And then what the officer is supposed to do is maintain contact with that person. So even if it’s nothing more than having a rough day and they just need somebody to vent to, that’s what the officer is there for.”
Evans said if veterans have a repeat crisis, their actual Battle Buddy may not respond to the scene. But the goal is to provide as much continuity as possible, he said.
“We’re not mental health professionals,” Evans said. “We’re just there to listen if they need somebody to talk to and get them the extra help if they need it.”
The Battle Buddy program is open to veterans and active members of the military in Joliet, according to the Joliet Police Department.
The program currently has 27 Joliet Police Department sworn personnel who have served in all branches of the military and have taken critical incident crisis intervention training, the department said.
The program is completely voluntary, Evans said.
“We’re just trying to do the best we can to help the people we consider heroes,” Evans said.
Evans said the number of calls the Battle Buddy program receives “goes in waves.” Still, it’s important that veterans know the program is available if they need it, he said.
“We won’t necessarily share their experience,” Evans said. “But we’re somebody that can at least relate to being in the military. And we can at least sit down with them and listen to their stories.”
For information about the Battle Buddy program, email JPDBattleBuddy@joliet.gov.