ROTTERDAM, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On the job, police, emergency medical personnel, firefighters, and corrections officers are exposed to events and situations that can have traumatic impacts on their mental health. Operation At Ease in Rotterdam mostly works with veterans, pairing them with dogs in a training program. This month, the non-profit expanded its services to telehealth therapy.
“You’re coming to us if we call you. You’re coming to my house if I need you. You’re coming to a building if it’s on fire. You’re coming in your ambulance if someone’s not well,” said Joni Bonilla, Founder and CEO of Operation At Ease, “and this is just us coming to you. So, you’re going to show up for us, we’re going to show up for you. Nobody’s taking anything from anyone. Hopefully it’ll just make it okay, because we can’t keep losing people.”
According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is estimated that 30% of first responders develop behavioral health conditions including, but not limited to, depression and PTSD, as compared with 20 percent in the general population.
When Operation At Ease received funds raised by the Pig Bowl, a charity football game between Schenectady Police and the Sheriff’s Department, they decided to put it toward a telehealth therapy program. Bonilla explained while the service dogs program for veterans has taken off and gets bigger every day, it has not been embraced as much by first responders.
“I don’t know if it’s because we haven’t normalized that kind of help with that community, like we have with veterans,” Bonilla said. “You know, I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t matter, because if it’s not working, then let’s find something that works.”
No insurance is required for those looking to enroll in the program. If you are a first responder working in Schenectady County, you’ll be matched with a trauma-informed therapist who will provide free therapy for up to a year.
If you are interested in applying for a therapist position, or if you’re a first responder looking to receive services, you can apply on the Operation At Ease website.