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Program aims to prevent veteran suicides

Carbon County is home to about 8% of Pennsylvania’s veterans.

But a more staggering fact is the county also has the highest suicide rate among veterans in the commonwealth.

A new collaborative between the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and the Carbon County Veterans Affairs Office is focused on reducing that startling suicide statistic to zero.

The two partners have adopted the Together With Veterans model, which requires an action plan to address veteran suicide prevention.

Together With Veterans is a community-based suicide prevention program that partners rural veterans and community agencies to prevent veteran suicide in their communities. Its key elements 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.

“The DMVA realizes that the best way to reduce veteran suicide to zero is by establishing partnerships throughout Pennsylvania communities and raising awareness of resources available to veterans at risk,” said Joel Mutschler, director, DMVA Bureau of Veterans Programs, Initiatives, Reintegration, and Outreach. “Carbon County is experiencing a high rate of veteran suicide, so adopting the TWV 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.”

“Carbon County Veterans Affairs is fortunate to partner with DMVA to empower community members, local leaders, organizations, family and friends to take action against veteran suicide,” said Christine LeClair, Carbon County director of Veterans Affairs. “Our partnership plans to equip our community with the tools and resources it needs to connect veterans who are experiencing emotional or mental health crisis with lifesaving support. We are committed to our veterans and it is our hope that the TWV model will help to lessen the stigma that is associated with suicide and prevent another tragic death.”

About 47,000 people die by suicide each year in the United States, but military veterans are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide than nonveterans. For female veterans, the risk factor is 2.2 times more likely. When looking at these statistics and factoring in that Pennsylvania serves nearly 800,000 veterans - the fourth-largest veteran population in the nation - it is easy to see why the DMVA is actively seeking community partners like Carbon County to help roll out suicide prevention initiatives.

The DMVA is the lead entity for the Governor’s Challenge to prevent suicide among service members, veterans and their families.

Pennsylvania is one of 27 states taking part in the Governor’s Challenge. Participants work to implement statewide suicide prevention best practices and learn from stakeholders nationwide.

In March, the Carbon County Commissioners approved a $100,000 award through the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education to support the implementation of the program, which was originally launched in December 2020.

Goals include the creation of the rural health initiative through a collaboration of various local and state agencies.

Partners include Carbon-Monroe-Pike Mental Health/Developmental Services, the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center’s Suicide Prevention Team, St. Luke’s University Health Network, Department of Military Veterans Affairs, Northeast Pennsylvania Health Education Centers, local veterans organizations and more.