Consts. Aaron Dale and Jeremy Burns, who developed the Military Veterans Wellness Program, are the recipients of the 2021 Mental Health Excellence Award (MHEA).
Both former Canadian Forces members, the officers recognized a pressing and unfilled need in the community to support veterans struggling to find their path after ending their military service.
“Jeremy and I can relate to these struggles and wanted to do something to help,” said Dale. “With the full support of our leadership, we began creating the Military Veterans Wellness Program that helps law enforcement officers understand what veterans have been through, their mental and physical challenges, how to de-escalate a veteran who is in crisis and then how to connect them with the services they need. I have seen far too many of my friends die by suicide and I feel that with more awareness, we can do our part to put a stop to veterans committing suicide.”
Chief James Ramer said Dale and Burns deserve the accolade.
“Officers respond to people in crisis every day and this program provides them with additional specialized training to understand the unique issues veterans may be facing,” he said. “Every veteran deserves dignity, honour and respect for their service to Canada, and this vital program will help them get the services they need to overcome adversity, and improve their well being. I’m very proud of the important work Constables Dale and Burns are doing to spread awareness about veteran wellness.”
Established in 2016 by the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), the MHEA is presented annually to TPS members who have demonstrated excellence, compassion and respect in their interactions with members of the public who are in crisis.
TPSB Chair Jim Hart said the award reflects the great priority that the Board places on the critical issue of police interaction with people experiencing mental illness, the importance of compassion and the use of a holistic response.
“This year’s award winners are extremely deserving, and their comprehensive, multi-pronged program serves as a vital lifeline to veterans who may be struggling in their transition to society, offering them access to a variety of services to help them overcome the unique challenges they face,” he added.
Jennifer Chambers, Executive Director of the Empowerment Council and the Co-Chair of the Board’s Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Panel, was part of the selection panel.
“Veterans are too often left traumatized and isolated following their experiences of conflict and peacekeeping and struggle to rejoin life in this city,” she said. “This program is a model that deserves to spread provincially and nationally, and we congratulate and thank these officers for their innovative and compassionate initiative.”