PTSD cuts a career short E-mail
Written by Nathan Schlitz   

I recently retired from the Mesa Police Department due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD.) I was hired by the City of Mesa in 1999, and had to leave the career I love in 2010. I worked eight years as a patrol officer and three years a gang detective. I had focused on gang investigation and enforcement, and being a gang detective was the ultimate dream position for me.

In May of 2009 I was involved in an on-duty critical incident, in which I was forced to shoot a suspect who was trying to run over my partner with a vehicle. During the shooting, a passenger in the suspect’s vehicle was struck by a round and killed. This incident devastated me and I immediately began to experience numerous negative symptoms.

In PTSD, there are four main symptoms that must be present in order to be diagnosed. These four symptoms are depression, isolation, exhaustion, and anger. I experienced each of these, and also began to experience insomnia, flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, avoidance, mood swings, and decreased appetite. I began to distance myself from my family, and did not want to leave my house.

I began treatment with the City’s contracted psychologist, and was diagnosed with PTSD after approximately two months. At the time, the City of Mesa had success sending employees with similar symptoms to a residential treatment facility in California, called the West Coast Post Trauma Retreat, or WCPR.

WCPR is a six day residential treatment program exclusively for first responders who have been diagnosed with PTSD as a result of on-duty critical incidents. The treatment program is run by volunteer clinicians and peers, and is one of only two programs of this kind in the country. I attended WCPR as a client in September of 2009, and it was a life changing experience. After attending the program, I was able to return to full duty in October of 2009.

In January of 2010, I was involved in another critical incident involving the pursuit and capture of the suspects who murdered Gilbert P.D. Lieutenant Schuhandler.

After being involved in this incident, I began to experience a lot of the symptoms I had previously dealt with in 2009. The symptom I began to have the most problem with was anger, and it began to affect my work.
I initially thought I could deal with these symptoms on my own, but they began to take control of my life, and I needed help. I spoke with a trusted friend in the department, and explained the problems I was having. This friend immediately arranged for me to see a psychologist for treatment, and I was again placed on administrative leave.

During my treatment, I was diagnosed with severe depression and was prescribed Lexapro, an anti-depressant. This medication immediately began helping me, and within weeks I was feeling better about myself. Unfortunately, as my treatment progressed, it became evident that I would no longer be able to do the job I loved and had devoted myself to. So I began the disability retirement process, and was granted a temporary one year disability retirement. In February of 2012, my disability retirement was made permanent, and my career as a police officer was over.

I now fill my days by speaking to others about PTSD in law enforcement, helping others through the disability retirement process, and volunteering as a peer counselor at WCPR in California.

Unfortunately, police officers and other first responders who are diagnosed with PTSD must go through an uphill battle with their employer in order to get what treatment they need. I will say that dealing with the City’s Worker’s

Compensation department created as much stress as the critical incidents themselves. Currently, the City of Mesa’s goal when dealing with an employee who is diagnosed with PTSD is to get that employee back to a full duty work status. I believe the City’s goal should be to get their employee back to full health, regardless of their work status.

This is true of a physical injury, like a broken bone, so why not PTSD? Most employers do not realize that PTSD manifests itself in physical symptoms. Because of this, several clinicians specifically involved in the treatment of PTSD in first responders have taken to calling it Post Traumatic Stress Injury, or PTSI, to emphasize the physical aspect of the injury.

Since I attended WCPR as a client in 2009, the City of Mesa has decided not to send any other employees there for treatment, despite the progress shown by the employees on their return.

The reason given to me by the City’s Worker’s Compensation department was that too many City employees sent to WCPR eventually take disability retirements.

I believe this policy is a detriment to the employee, as the City is not focused on returning their employee to full health. I believe that the City also needs to realize that any person employed as a first responder takes the chance of being involved in a critical incident that could change their perspective or ability to perform their duties.

Unfortunately, that is a chance that first responders take while doing their jobs. However, employees must be able to trust their employers to help them when these incidents do happen.

I would hope that in the future, the City of Mesa would return to sending their first responders dealing with PTSD to a treatment program such as WCPR.

I believe that another thing an employer can do to help their employees is to provide better training about what a first responder may go through in their career. This training should also address what an employee can do to help them when involved in a critical incident, and what steps they should take if treatment is needed. I believe that an employee who knows more about PTSD will be able to more effectively deal with it if needed.

Nathan Schlitz is a retired detective with the Mesa, Arizona Police Dept. His email address is:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . This testimony was delivered by Det. Schlitz before the Committee on Human Relations.


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Comments (11)Add Comment
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written by Patrick Bosco, November 06, 2012
I think he never should have become a police officer. It sounds like you scammed the system for a retirement check. I hope you aren't allowed to carry a gun.
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written by Bob Morley, December 02, 2012
Following my tour in Iraq I started to think about the similarities between the type of PTSD soldiers were experiencing and PTSD that police officers experience.
Just like soldiers, police officers like to think they are stronger than any psychological problems that might develop as a result of the things we see and do in our jobs. I don’t know if it is classic PTSD or just a buildup of residual stress that both police officers and soldiers experience, but I can tell you the symptoms the officer is describing are classic examples of those that my soldiers and I have experienced. In my opinion there is clearly something that happens to us; this is especially true as time goes on. If you think of the classic stereotypical veteran police officer, the behavior patterns are very similar to those exhibited by soldiers dealing with PTSD; some of these symptoms include self medication via alcohol, feelings of anger and rage that are sometimes hard to control (especially when reacting to actual or perceived personal attacks), and a propensity towards social isolation, only associating with other members of our groups (fellow police officers or soldiers who have experienced similar deployments). The list goes on and on, but the point is that these symptoms should be very recognizable to most experienced police officers. Coincidentally or not, police officers and soldiers also share a higher than average suicide rate.
Anyone who thinks PTSD is either a sign of weakness or some kind of elaborate fraud has not spent any time around real warriors (soldiers or police).
Police Officer
written by Kevin White, December 28, 2012
I do believe there are many forms of PTSD and it does affect how people behave after they experience something tramatic. For someone to say the person in this story scammed the system I would respectively disagree with that statement. The critical incidents this party went through sound horrific and it can affect the most seasoned veteran (police officers are human). If they tell it didn't affect them, then ask them why they are consuming more alcohol than normal, or why they have isolated themseleves away from everyone. They become angry with little things that seem insignificant to the rest of the world. I have experienced all of these things, but I haven't experienced calls as horrific as he did. It took by teenage daughter to ask me what was I angry about? I finally realized it was a call that had disturbed me more than I had realized. I was able to talk to several people and I was ok. I still have days, but I work out, play guitar, ride my Harley and so on. Bottom line, all of us need help from time to time. Some of us may have to step down from our dream jobs after a certain event. My point is unless you have experienced what this guy has, we don't have a right to make a judgement about him.
reply
written by michael bowman, March 09, 2013
Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry for what happened to you. The first comment left above on 11/06/12 is a typical, gutless, remark with the odor of someone usually associated with command staff. They should was their mouth out for various reasons and reapply the chap stick. But then again, patty-cake bosco has to be a fictional character due to the fact that no man standing taller than a snake in the grass would leave a slimy comment against a hero like brother Schlitz. For those of us with real street experience and have been involved in a shooting, we understand and appreciate Nathan Schlitz. The Kansas City, Ks. Police Department is the same way. It's currently lead by self-absorbed chief ricky armstrong (not worthy of capitalization). Prior to that, "chief" ron miller who recently appeared on Blue Bell Mooo Bars ice cream box wearing a straw hat, redefined the Peter Principle to an incomprehensible low. ron miller retired and slivered west to Topeka, Ks. where he's reported to be breaking world records for firing the most police officers. I'm curious how many police chiefs have pulled the trigger on duty. Unintentional discharges and attempts to qualify at the range don't count. Point being, our fearless leaders, by and large, can't relate and don't want to. Thanks again to Nathan Schlitz.
Sincerely, Michael Bowman
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written by Nathan Schlitz, March 10, 2013
Mr. Bosco, I'm sorry you feel the way you do, but I respect the fact that everyone can have an opinion in this country. I will say that I would give everything I have to be back working with my squad and doing the job again. All I can do is use the experiences I have and try to help others going through similar problems. I appreciate the other responses as well, from people who have been through the battles themselves.
ptsd
written by Mike, April 18, 2013
The idiot who commented on this officer scamming the system, is obviously someone with no common sense or knowledge. I was diagnose with ptsd and had all those problems. I was also seriously injured and underwent two surgeries one to my ankle for a fracture and ligament repair surgery, two broken bones in my foot, two herniated discs in my neck and three discs that were torn. I had surgery to my neck as well. I had to retire due to the medical issues and didn't even retire on ptsd but I was diagnose with it as well. I would also give anything to be a police officer again, unfortunately these incidents happen and you never expect that one day you will go to work and it will be your last time ever working as an officer again, it sucks.
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written by Brian, August 06, 2013
Nate I am glad you shared your story. I am currently working on my masters degree to become a Licensed Practitioner Clinical Counselor. To have the courage to seek help is one of great courage in itself as I know, being a former police officer, if you are diagnosed there is a fear of losing your job. My dream is to work with law enforcement officers, medical workers and fire fighters and being able to give them a voice. To have a place of refuge to speak in confidence to someone who will not judge them needs to be provided around the nation. Thank you for your service of 10 years and I hope for the best for you in the future.
Thank you
written by Jack, August 23, 2013
Thank you Nathan for your story. It was hard for me to even tell anybody what I was feeling. I will be attending the Wcpr school coming up for my ptsd. I'm hoping to have same experience you had.
Thank you for sharing your experience
written by Former LEO, August 30, 2013
I too had to retire early due to PTSD, I was involved in numerous horrific critical incidents and 2 shooting withing a few months apart. Also while on the job I had family members murdered. As of this morning I have been up since 2:30 am due to another night terror. As far as the imbecile who made the comment earlier that you should never have become a police officer, that is ignorance and they are probably employed by an agency with a small police force and low crime rate and really don't know what it is to be in the fight. I feel we chose to serve others an not ourselves and unfortunately it ultimately was our demise thus making us pull around a box of ghouls for the rest of our lives . My hats off to anyone who has served in the military to protect our Country and god only knows they will have to deal with PTSD, I have felt sometimes PTSD could be worse for Law Enforcement in the long run because you are exposed over and over again for a long time period. Please do not take this that I feel the PTSD is less for our service members, but it is just my opinion and experience that when you are in military battle you survive with a bulletproof mind and are on a constant fight syndrome during you entire tour. as a police officer your fight syndrome is like a roller coaster, in a 20 year time period you are exposed to an urban combat and grotesque atrocities in our so called civilized society in an unpredictable time table over a course of a carrier. Numerous years of having a daily fight or flight syndrome really takes its toll thus causing severe ptsd. again I want to make it clear that I am not minimizing PTSD that our service members are suffering from, just giving my opinion on how the 2 might be different from my personal experience. lets face it most normal civilians see death in a funeral parlor after the person who passed has been cleaned up, we see it raw and beyond what any civilian could possibly imagine. I am proud that I served and have great dignity that although my health was compromised it was due to serving others. PTSD is a horrible condition and I hope you enjoy your retirement as best as you can, because you truly earned that right.
Lt in the Battle
written by David, October 29, 2013
I'll have to agree, different incidents affect different officers in numerous ways. PTSD is very serious for officers and military personnel. I know People like Bosco, I verbally advised my Capt of my situation and he forgot he knew about it. Everyone understands what I mean by that. He didn't believe in PTSD either. It's amazing, God made losers too, keep the faith in this struggle Schlitz.
There is no going home from war when your battlefield WAS home....
written by Scott B, February 06, 2014
I, too, was retired out by physical trauma... Both me and my department virtually ignored (other than the formality of debriefing and a courtesy visit to the city's shrink for hire) the potential or possibility of PTSD. In retrospect and trying to pin down the incident(s) that cause me the most grief... I can't. Was it the first DB call I went to with violence or trauma involved? The multiple fights or confrontations that could pop up five in a night or none for a month? That first SIDS victim you respond to... And conduct CPR on a cold, lifeless infant simply to give a destroyed parent the illusion of hope or sense that help is there at the cost of a piece of your own soul?

Beating the FD to a structure fire and having to plead with a mother on the top story to throw children to you because the lower level is fully involved and you can't make entry to save them only to be restrained while listening to the rest of the family burn to death and then return at dawn to help document and photograph the bodies? The list goes on so long when you get on a roll and is as endless as the humanity we dealt with day in, and day out leaving pieces of ourselves in every call scene.

In the end I would like to blame my shooting... The staged suicide by cop the suspect set us up for and pushed me to execute in front of his wife and 12 yo granddaughter on New Years Day... And the guy behind me in the stack barely 30 days later who ad'd a round through my jacket elbow as I breached a door with a ram for warrant service causing me to flinch away from the ram so hard it fractured my neck and blew the disc... I would love to have even a half dozen clear events to blame that I could sit down with someone, snap a rubber band on my wrist whenever I reflected on them and train myself to not have all the issues and symptoms and more described above. But I can't.

In the end, it was millions and millions of raindrops, not one bucket dump that flooded and destroyed a city like New Orleans. And I now at least know THAT much... But in the end, who really gives a big fat one except us? Where is the VA for cops? Where are the benefits for a wrecked and incapable person who has the legs to walk into a building, but not the faculties to enjoy the people or facility itself any more, when their individual city or state has horrible benefits and retirement programs for such issues... IF they are progressive enough to even ACKNOWLEDGE PTSD??

I would submit that there is little or no resource out there and, like the gentleman above, I want to clearly define this as not being any more important or significant than PTSD suffered by our troops in the military (God bless them and those who help them recuperate) but I would only submit that we are essentially the VDW... Veterans of Domestic Wars. We are the overlooked, We are the quickly criticized (see the Adam Henry remark first posted on this string...). We are the victims too proud to ask for help... Needing to support our families in communities and jobs after we retire or leave service... Those communities and jobs do not support back because it's not politically popular to recognize there are wounded warriors all around us who will NEVER return home from war. Our battlefield WAS home!!! We still walk it, exist in it and try to cope with it now out of necessity and a self fooling sense of bravado and pride.

But now we have no armor of authority, no backup, no safety.... Which exacerbates many of the PTSD triggers, symptoms etc etc etc. Hopefully this doesn't bore everyone with its length or it's epic ranting... But these are things I needed to say and hopefully at least one person or some part needed hearing. Thanks to all who shared what I read (except that first douche) and once again, huge and unrelated props to military PTSD victims and vets. We love you and did our best to watch over yours while you fought for ours. We all suffer in our own way and may God bless us and we bless each other with understanding and compassion as we each struggle to cope. I'm 10-8.

PS: Nathan I've relocated to AZ. I'll find a way to drop you a line and buy you a coffee, brother. :-)

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