Commentary

The crisis of veterans’ suicides: How one Pa. county is responding | Tuesday Morning Coffee

Calls to a crisis hotline spiked during the last two weeks of August, underlining the need for additional support for veterans and service members

September 14, 2021 7:24 am

(Photo by Scott Nelson/Getty Images)

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Carbon County, in northeastern Pennsylvania’s coal country, is home to just 8 percent of the Keystone State’s veterans, but last spring, it had the highest statewide suicide rate among veterans, according to a published report.

A collaboration between the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Carbon County Veterans Affairs Office that aimed to reduce that tragic toll is being held up as an example of a good intervention effort as calls to a veterans’ crisis line spiked in the two weeks leading up to the 20-year observances of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The Veterans Crisis Line received 98 percent more texts, 7 percent more calls, and 40 more online chats during the last two weeks of August, according to data assembled by the National Association of County Commissioners, a trade group for county government leaders.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs attributed the rise to “multiple factors, including the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” the county government group wrote in a post to its official website.

“The uptick in veterans seeking mental health assistance suggests a need for increased support for the veterans, military and their families who were and are affected by the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent War on Terror,” the county government group wrote.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

But the group notes, there are resources and programs available for veterans to seek help, and county governments can step in to offer them.

“The NACo Veterans and Military Services Committee brings together more than 100 county officials … to develop and highlight county best practices and policies to promote innovative programs, services and benefits for our nation’s military, veterans and their families,” the county officials organization wrote on its website.

” … For county leaders interested in developing community-based veteran suicide prevention models, resources and examples abound,” it continued. “The Carbon County, Pa. Veterans Affairs Office is collaborating with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to adopt a Together With Veterans (TWV) model for rural community-based veteran suicide prevention. The key elements of the plan are identifying service members, veterans and family members and screening for suicide risk; promoting connectedness and improving care transitions; and reducing access to lethal suicide methods and enhancing safety planning.”

In an interview last May with the Standard-Speaker newspaper of Hazleton, Joel Mutschler, the director of the DMVA’s Bureau of Veterans Programs, Initiatives, Reintegration, and Outreach said the ‘Together with Veterans’ model is “an excellent way to structure a strategy that will address this concerning issue …  Carbon County is focused and committed on helping veterans in crisis, which makes the county an ideal community partner.”

If you’re a veteran or service member who needs help, or the family member of a veteran or service member you believe needs assistance, you can visit the Department of Military & Veterans Affairs website or follow the agency on Facebook or Twitter for more resources.

You also can visit the the Veterans Crisis Line online, call it on 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text it at 838-255. The crisis line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Monday he would withdraw his nominee to head the Department of State, which oversees the commonwealth’s elections, claiming confirmation hearings would give Republican lawmakers a venue to make bad faith arguments attacking the integrity of the 2020 election, Stephen Caruso reports.

Pennsylvania Corrections Secretary John E. Wetzel, whose career spanned Republican and Democratic administrations, will leave his post on Oct. 1. The outgoing prisons boss told the Capital-Star he plans to open a criminal justice nonprofit in February.

The union representing 11,000 Pennsylvania prison guards and other corrections staff has filed a lawsuit to block Gov. Tom Wolf’s vaccine policyStephen Caruso also reports.

If three Democratic members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation have their way, a Depression-era environmental work relief program may make a revival after a nearly 80-year hiatus. Cassie Miller has the details.

State health officials logged 12,406 new cases of COVID-19 between 12 a.m. on Saturday morning and 12 a.m. on Monday morning, as the number of people hospitalized for treatment of the virus also rose, I report.

The Biden administration has announced its ‘comprehensive plan’ to fix high prescription drug prices — but will it? Reporter Marty Schladen, of our sibling site, the Ohio Capital Journal, takes up the question.

On our Commentary Page this morning, columnist Michael Coard, of our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune, wants you to remember these names: Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley, and Sarah Collins. They’re four murdered Black children who changed the course of U.S. history. Activist and grandmother Cynthia Sherbin has a prescription for a future safe from gun violenceAnd frequent contributor Jill Sunday Bartoli, of Carlisle, Pa., has some reflections on this past weekend’s somber benchmark, and how it might point the way to a brighter future.

(Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Elsewhere.
Twenty thousand Philadelphia school employees have until Sept. 30 to get vaccinated,. The Inquirer explains what happens if they don’t.

A proposed 2 percent tax on hotel rooms in Allegheny County to raise money for tourism is drawing equal parts support and scrutiny, the Post-Gazette reports.

Actor Michael K. Williams’ private funeral service will be held in Harrisburg, where his mother still lives, PennLive reports. ‘The Wire‘ star died last week, aged 54.

Parents in Lancaster County are demanding that local school boards defy the state’s mask mandate, LancasterOnline reports (paywall).

The Central York School District is maintaining a book ban after a week of protests, the York Daily Record reports (paywall).

The Wolf administration has been ordered to reveal the details of how it used cannabis as a drug addiction treatment, Spotlight PA reports (via the Morning Call).

The Citizens’ Voice explains how COVID cases have forced Luzerne County school districts to alter their football schedules.

The Philly school district’s trash problems are continuing, with a vendor blaming staff shortages, WHYY-FM reports.

Thousands of Pennsylvania health system workers will be affected by the Biden administration’s vaccine mandatesWITF-FM breaks it down.

GoErie explains how and when Erie County Council might create a diversity commission.

new program intended to help rural veterans is coming to Greene County, the Observer-Reporter reports.

City & State PA runs down the legislative efforts to trim the powers of executive branch officials.

Former state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Allegheny, has officially tipped his hat for a GOP bid for lieutenant governor in 2022PoliticsPA reports.

security fence will go up around the U.S. Capitol this Friday as U.S. Capitol Police prep for a Sept. 18 rally in support of people who were imprisoned as a result of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Roll Call reports. Congressional leaders also were briefed on other preparation efforts ahead of the rally.

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What Goes On
9 a.m., G50 Irvis: House State Government Committee, Subcommittee on Campaign Finance & Lobbying Reform (a second meeting also is scheduled for 2 p.m.)
10:30 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Labor & Industry Committee
10:30 a.m., East Rotunda: Veterans Service Fair kickoff
11 a.m., Hearing Room 1 North Office Building:Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee
11 a.m., Capitol Fountain: Hunger Action Month kickoff
11 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Health Committee – voting session on mask mandate
12 p.m., Main Rotunda: Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
5 p.m.: Reception for Allegheny County Court candidate Chelsa Wagner
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Aaron Kaufer
6 p.m.: Reception for Commonwealth Court Judge Drew Crompton
Ride the circuit, and give at the max, and you’re out at least $2,000 today. Contribution information for Wagner was not available.

WolfWatch
Gov.Tom Wolf heads to Reading for a 10 a.m. newser, where he’ll urge people to get vaccinated.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s some new music from Manic Street Preachers. From their new LP ‘Ultra Vivid Lament,’ it’s ‘Don’t Let the Night Divide Us.’


Tuesday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link
Manchester United will have ‘no excuses’ if the Red Devils fail to perform in Champions League play against Swiss club, Young Boys, today, Coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has warned. The Guardian has the details on the match, scheduled to be played in Bern.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press.

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