To help those who responded to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol siege cope with the unseen wounds of that attack, the Department of Veterans Affairs is moving two of its mobile vet centers onto Capitol Hill.
They have been deployed to “ensure those impacted by the events of Jan. 6th can access support and mental health resources needed during this critical time,” according to a joint statement released Tuesday morning by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., acting VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. Richard Stone, and acting U.S. Capitol Police Chief Yogananda D. Pittman.
The mobile vet centers will provide “free, easily accessible mental health resources and counseling to the U.S. Capitol Police, members of the National Guard, and any congressional staff in crisis,” the statement said.
The move comes in the wake of an attack that followed a large-scale rally by supporters of President Donald Trump on the National Mall. Federal officials have estimated that more than 800 people rushed into the building in an attempt to stop lawmakers from certifying the results of the November presidential election, which Trump insisted was flawed.
Five people died, including Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick, a former New Jersey Air National Guard member, who was struck in the head by a fire extinguisher thrown by someone in the crowd. Earlier this month, House lawmakers impeached Trump, for the second time, for his role in inciting the crowd. Nearly 26,000 National Guard troops from all 50 states and three territories were called in to help prevent a future attack during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Thousands of troops will remain through at least the middle of March.
The trauma of that day has been lingering for those who experienced it.
Two police officers who defended the Capitol have died by suicide, according to NBC.
Acting Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department Robert J. Contee III told a House committee that Officer Jeffrey Smith, a 12-year-veteran of the Metro Police Department, had killed himself recently. Another officer, Howard Liebengood, who joined the Capitol Police in 2005, died by suicide three days after the attack. Liebengood was 51.
“Other harm from this traumatic day will be widely felt but possibly unacknowledged,” Contee said, according to NBC. “Law enforcement training neither anticipates nor prepares for hours of hand-to-hand combat.”
In addition to the deaths, nearly 140 D.C. and Capitol police officers were injured, and one officer may lose an eye. Gus Papathanasiou, the chairman of the Capitol Police union said in a statement, according to NBC. He added that some officers had not been issued helmets prior to the attack and sustained head injuries.
While the decision to deploy the mobile vet centers is not directly tied to the suicides, a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs staffer told Military Times that “in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection, there have been many who are part of the Capitol Hill community that are struggling to process and address the trauma of that day.
“We heard early on that there was high demand for these resources and that’s when our team started looking into ways to help,” the staffer said. “Since we know the VA has this service, it made sense, especially with so many members of the Capitol Police themselves veterans and the Guard/Reserve. We’ve not heard from them on this issue specifically, but we know given VA’s own data on suicides that never deployed/mobilized members of the Guard or Reserve do face higher incidences of suicide.”
National Guard officials “do not discuss whether members have requested mental health or spiritual assistance, as these services are confidential,” Air Force Capt. Tinashe Machona, a DCNG spokesman, told Military Times. “The National Guard from each state, territory and D.C. has a chaplain corps and mental health services available to soldiers and airmen,” he said in an email. “For this mission, such services are available, as they ordinarily would be at any time and during any mission, for those desiring them. Information about confidential services are also available through Military One Source.”
Pittman expressed her gratitude.
“The United States Capitol Police is grateful for the support of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Department of Veterans Affairs for helping to facilitate access to these services for our officers,” she said.
Takano said he is “so grateful to VA and Dr. Stone for their willingness to offer critical assistance and mental health care to the U.S. Capitol Police, National Guard, and any congressional staff in crisis following the insurrection on Jan. 6th. Veterans often continue their service after the military, and we’ve seen firsthand, as USCP officers, staff and even some members who served have been highlighted in the days since the insurrection. "
Professional counselors and support staff at the two mobile vet center sites — located at Lot 16 on the Senate side and Lot 5 on the House side — will provide counseling, outreach and referral services to members of the U.S. Capitol Police, members of the National Guard deployed to the Capitol, or anyone in crisis beginning Feb. 1, according to the joint statement. These services are strictly confidential and at no cost to the individual.
The mobile vet centers can accept walk-in appointments from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. or if someone would like to schedule a next-day appointment, they may call the Washington, D.C., Vet Center at (202) 726-5212. Calls placed after normal business hours will be answered by the 24/7 Vet Center Call Center. Secured virtual services may also be obtained by calling (202) 726-5212.
“Staff are prepared to discuss and identify solutions to addressing stress, fatigue, grief, trauma and other thoughts or feelings individuals may be experiencing,” said Stone. “We are a part of the communities we serve and want to be a part of the solution.”
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.