North Texas mental health service for law enforcement expands statewide

The Texas Blue Chip Program offers free and anonymous support for officers.

By Aislyn GaddisJune 26, 2024 2:10 pm

In 2022, Texas recorded more law enforcement officer deaths by suicide than any other state. Nationally, police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

An initiative to change that in North Texas – the Texas Blue Chip Program, which provides police officers with free and anonymous mental health care – is now expanding statewide.

B.J. Wagner, senior vice president of health and public safety at the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, which helps run the program, spoke to the Texas Standard.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: First, what is the significance of the blue chip?

BJ Wagner: Well, the blue chip itself – the physical chip, the poker chip an officer can hold in his hands – represents a couple of things.

The challenge coin is a long-standing police officer tradition of passing a coin from one officer to another to recognize something they’ve done exceptionally well. The chip is in the tradition of the challenge coin, but it also is that piece of hope an officer can hold in his or her hands when they think they’re having their absolute worst day.

So the chip is a coupon, if you will, for access to mental health services. That chip represents payment for one counseling session, one clinical session with one of the providers. And the Blue Chip Program is available statewide, either in-person or by telehealth. The officer simply turns in that chip or turns in the QR code that can be found on The Lone Star Readiness App, and the provider submits that to us for payment for those services.

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Certainly some police officers throughout the state and country already go to therapy. I suppose that some of their departments offer some sort of mental health service as well. How is this program different than what might already be available?

We champion departments that offer mental health services, whether that is through an EAP program, an in-house psychologist or access to a department-wide behavioral health professional. We really champion departments who have taken on the wellness of their officers as one of their mission-critical elements.

But, we also know that there are many officers who do not want to connect their behavioral health care to their employer. Behavioral health care and the public safety field still carry that stigma with it, that perhaps that officer is not as ready or as capable as an officer who’s not seeking care. That is not true, but that stigma exists.

Also, Texas has a unique diversity in our public safety workforce, where almost 80% of our workforce is within departments with 50 officers or less. So it’s challenging to have anonymity when you know every single person in your department.

The Blue Chip Program offers officers access to care that is not employer-connected. They don’t file on their insurance. There’s no explanation of benefits ever sent out. They don’t have to access their EAP program, and they can just access care on their own terms with a provider who’s culturally competent in public safety trauma exposure.

When we receive those invoices, we don’t see an officer’s name or a department, a badge number or any other personally identifiable information. We’ve set up a secure, anonymous billing process, and so that officer can always be assured that their self-directed self-choice care is only known to them and their provider.

What are some of the benefits you’ve seen in North Texas, where the program has been up and running?

Well, it’s getting high utilization, and that is always encouraging. We want officers to see someone when they need someone, and we know they’re doing that now through the Blue Chip Program as well as the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network, our collaborator.

But, if we take into example the tragedy in Allen at the Allen Outlet mall shooting: Typically following a mass tragedy such as that, you’ll see an impact on the workforce. You’ll see officers retire, resign and move departments to get away from the scene of the trauma, or you’ll see disciplinary issues start to creep up in officers really struggling.

We launched blue chip at the Allen Police Department in Texas, following the wonderful example set by the Arlington Police Department, who started the program there first. But, since launching it in Allen, that department has not had a single officer leave their force or have any disciplinary issues or any recourse issues stemming from their involvement in the response to the Allen Outlet mall shooting. So we know it works.

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