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Bill would allow law enforcement to respond to veterans’ mental health crises

Posted at 8:23 AM, May 28, 2024

Revving his engine, Robert Terstegge got onto his motorcycle and rode around his neighborhood. It’s one of the ways he deals with his mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

“Yes, we’re home, but that’s not the same thing we experienced while we were gone,” Terstegge said.

He served for 27 years in the Army and went abroad to countries like Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan, where he said he developed mental health issues.

He said the V.A. hospital in El Paso, Texas, where he used to live didn’t give him the best support, but the one in Tucson has provided him excellent services. He said his primary care doctor and the staff at the V.A. always ask him about his mental health status.

“That makes a big difference. It’s actually kind of….makes you feel like they really care,” he said.

The Service Act of 2024 is a bill in the U.S. House cosponsored by Arizona Democrat U.S. Representative Greg Stanton. It is also cosponsored by other Democrats and mostly Republicans.

It would make a veterans response team at law enforcement agencies so they can learn how to respond to mental health issues like PTSD and depression related to serving in the armed forces.

If the Service Act passed, a team of first responder volunteers would go out to help veterans in crisis 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“If they had a different way to approach, I think that would make a huge difference in the overall result of a traffic stop,” Terstegge said.

Under the act, law enforcement officers who are veterans would get a pin to wear saying they served.

“Some law enforcement officers are prior service, so they kind of understand what we went through,” Terstegge said.

A 2018 study by the Arizona Coalition for Military Families says one in three Arizona veterans say they have a mental health condition related to depression, anxiety or PTSD.

Right now, the Service Act is still making its way through the U.S. House and it still has to make its way through the U.S. Senate before getting signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Terstegge is hoping lawmakers serve veterans the way they served our country.

“Get out there and get to know us. I don’t care what side of the fence you’re on…because that’s where you’re going to learn,” he said.

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Andrew Christiansen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Before joining the team, Andrew reported in Corpus Christi, Texas for KRIS6 News, Action 10 News and guest reported in Spanish for Telemundo Corpus Christi. Share your story ideas with Andrew by emailing andrew.christiansen@kgun9.com or by connecting on Facebook, or Twitter.