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General News    H3'ed 3/31/10

Vicarious and Whistleblower Trauma in Those Who Protect and Serve

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Message Janet Parker
Law Enforcement Officers can themselves become Medical Whistleblowers. In the performance of their duties Law Enforcement Officers can confront medical fraud, abuse, neglect and human rights violations. Law enforcement officers actually look forward and relish a day filled with what most civilians would think was stressful. Officers choose to have a career in law enforcement and are very adept at handling stress of the job. They deal daily with crime, criminal suspects, and the vulgarities of the imperfect court system. Law enforcement officers like medical doctors become hardened to the trauma they see every day but that is not to say that they are unaffected by it.

Both medical professionals and law enforcement officers have gained experience and have learned many strategies to deal with stress. Persons who choose these professions do so knowing that they will be exposed to stressful situations and difficult choices often of life or death. Law enforcement officers are human and subject in their own somewhat unique perils of unrelenting and unresolved stress, sometimes bottled up over a period of years.

Law Enforcement Officers also see close up and first hand corruption within the Department of Justice that prevents resolution of insidious usurpation of power and authority under "Color of Law" and "Color of Official Right".

The real most common stressors in police work are probably not what you might think they are. The real list prioritized by which are most significant is as follows.

1) The Boss (this is the first and most important)

2) Marital Conflicts

3) Other Family Problems

4) Finances and lastly

5) The stress of the job itself.

Being a Whistleblower behind the Blue Line exposes Police Officers to an increase in stress in all 5 of these areas. But the kind of stress that they may experience as a result of a critical incident, is small compared to the complex chronic stress brought on by Whistleblower Retaliation and Bullying in the workplace. Because being a Whistleblower behind the Blue Line is a truly emotionally stressful experience, as anyone who has watched the movie Serpico knows. It is necessary to understand the long term chronic stress of being a Whistleblower behind the Blue Line which can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The problems facing the Officer Whistleblower are unique as the institutional ways of stress intervention are often not effective in the Whistleblowing situation. The reason for this is that critical incident debriefing, as it is commonly done, will not happen because it may be your supervisors or co-workers that you are anonymously reporting. When whistleblowing within the law enforcement community, trust becomes a major issue and workplace safety is a very constant concern. Whistleblowing officers often feel betrayed or abandoned by their bosses and hung out to dry. The normal channels for reporting wrongdoing do not work effectively such as the Internal Affairs Bureau, the Office of Professional Responsibility, the Merit System Protection Board and the OIG often are not unbiased and will categorically turn down insider complaints. Those who have security clearances are often retaliated against by having their security clearance pulled with little opportunity for recourse to have their case properly reviewed in an unbiased forum.

So those who protect and serve our nation and those whistleblowers who are essential to our national security, need strong protections for their civil legal rights and also their human rights.

Most officers will instead "stuff it" and continue to act as if nothing is bothering them. This is the "real men don't cry" act. It is common first for anger to emerge, but depression usually lurks just below the surface. Officers will hide their symptoms from co-workers, supervisors, family and friends, and may use alcohol to hide their feelings. The justified outrage and resentment against an unresponsive system can mask the underlying depression and even lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness which can even lead to suicide. More officers die each year from suicide than from homicide. Therefore we must respond quickly but also appropriately to any whistleblowing officer requesting assistance as there is no real thing as minor stress in police work.

But what is appropriate social support and treatment for those who carry a badge and gun and may be suffering the effects of trauma whether that be due to stress of workplace bullying or due to the impact of vicarious trauma of a critical incident. Let us remember that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not a mental disease but a psychiatric injury. PTSD is caused by seeing or experiencing a life threatening trauma one that wrenches the very essence of the soul. Persons who have PTSD are normal persons not someone who is mentally weak or inferior. Instead we are dealing with a person who has unlimited potential for healing and many deep inner strengths to draw on. These competent professional officers did not get to this place in life without a strong foundation of personal inner strength. Let us remember that these are not forever damaged individuals but instead injured persons who need compassionate care and support. A corporate executive in the height of his/her career can be brought to his/her knees by the sudden diagnosis of cancer, this will cause him to be preoccupied with his/her immediate needs especially those related to his/her health. He/she will drop his efforts to obtain full self-actualization in his/her professional pursuits and instead dedicate his/her efforts on learning about his chemotherapy and surgery options. So a police officer facing the soul wrenching realities of trauma will need to pause and reflect and dedicate himself to becoming emotionally strong again, but this doesn't mean that he/she doesn't move back into his work and profession and again be able to be fully participatory in fulfilling his/her self-esteem and self-actualization needs. How quickly he/she is able to do that will depend on how effective the support he/she received.

It is important to provide a meaningful social network of emotional and spiritual support to Whistleblowing officers and their families throughout this healing process. Strengthening the officer's social support network may avert the need for more intensive and invasive actions into the officer's life. Law enforcement officers can be because of their own compassion and dedication become victims of vicarious trauma and thus needing support for their own human needs. Compassionate care should be given to those who protect and serve with respect for their own autonomy and their personal dignity. Medical Whistleblower as an advocacy network encourages professionals to consider a Compassionate Care Model to respond to persons who have experienced trauma or who have PTSD.


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Medical Whistleblower is an organization dedicated to advocacy and emotional support for those who have bravely stepped forward to "Tell Truth to Power" to the Medical Establishment. Medical Whistleblowers report Medical Fraud, Abuse and (more...)

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