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St. Luke’s Penn Foundation Receives VA Grant to Enhance Suicide Prevention Efforts in Carbon County

St. Luke’s Penn Foundation has received a more than $530,000 community-based grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to enhance its veteran suicide prevention services. 

The $534,424 grant from the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Suicide Prevention Grant Program will be used to establish a peer support program for veterans, said Jane Straw, MA,  Practice Administrator of Mental Health Rehabilitation Services at St. Luke’s Penn Foundation in Sellersville. Grants were awarded in September to organizations that provide or coordinate suicide prevention services for veterans at risk of suicide and their families. These grants are in honor of Veteran Staff Sergeant Fox, who joined the Army in 2014 and was a sniper instructor at the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia. Known for a life of generosity and kindness to others in need, Fox died by suicide on July 21, 2020, at the age of 25.

As a result of the grant, beginning in January 2023, a team of certified peer specialists will provide outreach, counseling and education to veterans in Carbon County who may feel isolated, potentially at risk, and in need of mental health services, Straw said.

“We hope to have four peer specialists and two case managers on our team,” Straw said. All of the peer specialists will be military veterans who are certified through the Pennsylvania certification board and have specialized training to help prevent veteran suicide. The two case managers will focus on supporting the veterans and their families by assessing their needs and connecting them to resources to address those needs.

As noted by Robert Brands, Chairman of the Veteran’s Committee at the St. Luke’s University Health Network, “Now is the time to take care of those who took care of us.”

The peer specialists will work closely with the new walk-in psychiatric clinic for veterans at St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Carbon Campus and the new Carbon County Veterans Affairs Hub office that recently opened on St. Luke’s University Health Network’s Lehighton campus.  The clinic operates 24/7, 365 days a year, and serves anyone 14 years or older in need of mental health services. The Veterans Hub of Northeastern PA is located on the first floor of the Lehighton Campus. The Veterans Hub at St. Luke’s Carbon campus is dedicated in memory of combat veteran Chad Peyton, a friend of Christine LeClair, director of Veterans Affairs, Carbon County, who died by suicide on May 17, 2021.  “Our tagline for the Hub is: ‘Here you will find Compassion, Hope, Advocacy and Direction,’” LeClair said.

The SSG Fox SPGP grant is for one year, but organizations can apply for funding for two additional years, Straw said.

Straw said the grant is most welcome because Carbon County, home to about 8 percent of Pennsylvania’s veterans, has the highest suicide rate among veterans in the commonwealth, according to data provided by the Center For Rural Pennsylvania. The VA prioritized grants to organizations that focus on areas with limited access to medical services, in rural communities, on tribal lands, in U.S. territories, in areas with a high number or percentage of minority veterans or women veterans, or in areas with a high number or percentage of calls to the Veterans Crisis Line.