My name is Bill Ross, and I am a Marine Corps veteran as well as a nine year veteran of an urban police department. During my active years as a police officer, I have seen countless scenes that the public does not want to know about. I have seen teenage suicides, car accidents, murders and a multitude of other graphic calls. Along with this, I have also been involved with two line of duty shootings, one resulting in the death of the suspect. The general public sees me as a person who did my job, and did it well. What they don’t see me as, is the survivor of PTSD, suicidal thoughts, major depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse.
We all know the statistics and influence of non profit organizations in helping veterans, especially war veterans, in addressing PTSD and other traumatic brain injuries. These organizations exist as a way to help dramatically lower the suicide rates of those veterans. The clear missing piece to this mental health assistance is the presence of organizations built to help first responders deal with their mental dilemmas. For instance, in 2017, 93 firefighters and 129 police officers died in the line of duty. During this same time frame, 103 firefighters and 140 police officers died by suicide. While we may never be able to fully take away the on duty dangers of the jobs of first responders, we must find a way to take away the preventable deaths of those who volunteer to serve their communities, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As police officers, we have options for paid involvement in “Associations” which provide 3rd party legal aid for duty related incidents. With my first shooting, I learned an important lesson from my attorney ...do not talk to mental health professionals paid for or provided by the city of department. Why is this? This is a scenario similar to a workers compensation plan. When the city assigns and pays for the service, the city gets a copy of the doctors report. If the city has a copy of the doctors report, it is now available as public information. This information can be used to determine an officers fitness for duty, the officers mindset in the eyes of a defense attorney trying to prove their criminal client innocent, or any other number of reasons.
The primary mission of the Gunslingers Assistance Project is to provide a 3rd party, non profit, organization that can provide mental health assistance, even in emergency scenarios, completely removed from the city or agency. This allows HIPAA laws to take effect, and keep the conversations and medical treatment as privileged information between the doctor and patient. The purpose that the GAP serves is to privately pay for these services, whenever needed, to avoid putting further stress on the officer. We take the broken and mend them, the anxious and calm them. We give our first responders a safe position to get the help they need, without risking their jobs or legal backlash.
In order to accomplish this mission, we must raise funds from the public, as well as corporate entities. To raise awareness of the problem, we will hold events and fundraisers, and allow the public to see the need for the Project.