This article was updated on March 16, 2023.
After the attacks on 9/11, I provided Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) services for a variety of private companies. In one case, I ended up staying a week – not just because of the attacks, but because the company was undergoing a merger. Employees were on edge knowing some were going to lose their jobs. Middle management literally felt caught in the middle between justifying executive decisions while fielding employee complaints. I was struck by the company’s apparent disregard for human factors. (Did I mention this was a healthcare company???)
Similar disregard is taking place in the US Capitol. While the US House and the media were fixated on justice for the January 6th attacks, not a single member of Congress appears to have done anything to address the mental health needs of the US Capitol Police (USCP) officers to whom they profess gratitude.
As a clinical social worker for almost 30 years, including the Army, I know the long-term impact trauma can have on the brain. After a “critical incident,” it’s imperative that a team of licensed professionals with CISM training be deployed on site immediately. It’s now been over two years. The officers were never debriefed, as is standard protocol. They were never educated on common symptoms of trauma (aka “normal reactions to an abnormal situation”) or how to cope with them. Also, USCP leadership were never trained to recognize symptoms of trauma or how to respond to them.
Because of inadequate support and agency dysfunction, the USCP officers are being perpetually retraumatized – like a tuning fork repeatedly being slammed against a table before it has a chance to stop vibrating. As a result, officers are still struggling with depression, guilt, panic attacks, nightmares, flashbacks, and anger outbursts two years later.
In July 2021, I contacted my congressman (and former House Leader), Steny Hoyer, on behalf of a USCP officer, about the urgent need for on-site mental health services. Hoyer’s office transferred our request to Stefanie Carey Barone, Hoyer’s District Deputy Director. Ms. Barone received the names and phone numbers of six other officers with whom she promised to “schedule the conversations within my work day.”
From July 2021 to February 2022, I regularly followed up with Ms. Barone urging Congressman Hoyer to work with USCP to deploy a trained CISM team on-site as soon as possible. On August 4, 2021, Ms. Carey texted that she was going to “start calling the other officers… today.” We waited.
Then, in January 2022, Hoyer’s office forwarded a letter from the USCP Chief, J. Thomas Manger. It was dated October 25, 2021, and only addressed paid leave, an issue unrelated to our request and one we had already resolved. When I confronted Ms. Carey about this, she claimed congressional offices only handle personnel issues on behalf of constituents. She also admitted to never calling the other officers.
This is what happens in a society that ignores mental health. As an Army commander once told me, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Congress should have known officers would need CISM services. The USCP Department should have trained supervisors to recognize symptoms of trauma and how to respond. The media should have held Congress and the USCP accountable for providing officers with adequate mental health services. These oversights are tantamount to leaving an officer on the floor bleeding!
As a result, I fear another violent attack toward USCP could trigger violence in some officers and incapacitating anxiety in others.