WILKES-BARRE — Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller this week reminded Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions due to the COVID-19 emergency that they do not have to face things alone — help is available.
“We know that psychological distress — whether it stems from poverty, systemic racism, or a public health crisis — can cause trauma,” Miller said. “And we know that trauma can create long-lasting, adverse effects on a person’s well-being and can extend across their entire life.”
Miller said she wants people to know that if they are experiencing stress, anxiety, or grief from what they’ve been facing – that’s OK.
“Those feelings are a natural reaction to the difficult circumstances we’re facing right now,” Miller said. “But you don’t have to face them alone, and resources are available that can help you work through these feelings.”
In early April, DHS launched the Support & Referral Helpline, a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians.
The helpline can be reached toll-free, 24/7 at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.
The helpline is made possible through a partnership with the Center for Community Resources (CCR). CCR staff are trained to be accessible, culturally competent, and skilled at assisting people with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, co-occurring disorders, or other special needs, or someone just looking for a supportive, empathetic person to listen. Staff are trained in trauma-informed care to listen, assess needs, triage calls, and provide appropriate referrals to community resources to children, teens, adults and special populations.
The helpline has received a total of 9,213 calls since April 1 and is averaging 68 calls per day.
There are also many other resources that remain available to Pennsylvanians in need of support, including:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The Spanish-language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-888-628-9454
The Mental Health Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
The Attorney General’s Safe2Say program is also still operating 24/7 and can be reached at 1-844-723-2729 or at www.safe2saypa.org.
“It’s OK to ask for help because we can and will get through this together,” Miller said. “We are committed to maintaining a strong, stable, trauma-informed mental health and substance use support system available for everyone across the commonwealth. If you find that you may need help, do not hesitate; reach out.”
Sen. Toomey honored by
two animal rights groups
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Humane Society Legislative Fund has presented U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, with the Pennsylvania 2019 Legislator of the Year Award for his efforts to protect animals by sponsoring the Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
“I’m honored to receive the HSUS Pennsylvania Legislator of the Year award,” Toomey said. “The Humane Society of the United States is a great partner and played an integral role in the multi-year fight to get the landmark PACT Act across the goal line.”
Kristen Tullo, the HSUS Pennsylvania state director, said, “Pennsylvania animal advocates have good reason to be proud that U.S. Senator Pat Toomey led the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act in the U.S. Senate and we are pleased to honor him with this award. Thanks to his persistence and leadership on seeing this bill through, animal cruelty is recognized as the serious crime that it is.”
The PACT Act was landmark legislation that outlaws a heinous form of animal abuse known as “crushing,” where deranged individuals maim and torture animals. It was signed into law in November 2019.
PA keeping pace with veterans’
benefits during the pandemic
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ commitment to provide benefits to the state’s nearly 800,000 veterans during COVID-19 has yielded stronger collaboration with county and federal advocates.
“Veterans are an important part of Pennsylvania’s population, having served our country by fighting for our freedoms and keeping us safe,” said Maj. Gen. (ret.) Eric Weller, deputy adjutant general of Veterans Affairs at DMVA. “Now we are fighting a different kind of war and veterans need our help more than ever during these times of uncertainty. The Office of Veterans Affairs has steadily fielded thousands of queries from veterans about their much-needed benefits.”
For veterans, filing for state and federal benefits often begins with meeting with their county director of veterans affairs. The DMVA has provided counties with extra assistance responding to veterans to assure their needs are met during the pandemic. This has been done mostly through the use of virtual technology and closer coordination with the county and service organization veteran service officers.
A complete list of county directors and their contact information can be found at: www.dmva.pa.gov/veteransaffairs/Pages/Outreach-and-Reintegration/County-Directors.aspx. If a county director is not available due to a county office closure, veterans may contact the DMVA toll-free at 800-547-2838.
The DMVA also collaborated with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to host two Pennsylvania-specific virtual town hall meetings that saw nearly 100,000 veterans and family members participate. Thanks to these events, veterans across the commonwealth were able to receive important information regarding their benefits during the pandemic. Information about how to apply for federal VA health care benefits can be found by going to www.va.gov/HEALTHBENEFITS/apply/.
“Serving veterans effectively has to be a collaborative effort on the local, state and federal levels,” Weller said. “Planning, networking and relationship building are the keys to success, and that is exactly what we have been able to leverage during COVID-19.”
In addition to connecting with a county director or an accredited veteran service organization, Weller recommends that every one of Pennsylvania’s veterans sign up for the DMVA Veterans Registry, an extremely helpful, free tool that electronically delivers timely information about the many state benefits, programs and services available to veterans. Veterans, family members and people who work with veterans can sign up by computer or mobile device at www.register.dmva.pa.gov.
Weller cautions that, “Veterans and their dependents should never pay for help to apply for veteran’s benefits because plenty of free, professional help is available. There are about 200 veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work with organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices, and several veterans service organizations. They are experienced, accredited professionals who provide veterans with the best advice and assistance at no cost.”
State encourages people to stay
up to date with background checks
Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller this week encouraged anyone needing background checks as a condition of employment to complete this requirement as soon as they are able.
Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Wolf signed Act 18 of 2020, which extended the time period for certain professionals to obtain an FBI criminal history background check upon hiring if they were unable to complete their fingerprinting scan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The extension for obtaining FBI criminal history background checks lasts until 60 days following the expiration of the disaster emergency declaration issued by Gov. Wolf, or Dec. 31, whichever is sooner, for new employees and until December 31 for employees renewing clearances.
“This initial extension helped ensure that people in professions that require clearances could continue to work during the stay-at-home period when many of the fingerprinting sites were closed,” Miller said. “Completing fingerprinting and clearance requirements ensures that people remain in compliance with clearances and do not get into a difficult situation if circumstances change.”
All individuals required to obtain additional clearances, including the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check and the Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance, must still obtain these clearances prior to employment or continued employment.
Act 18 of 2020 applies to individuals who must get their FBI Criminal History Background Check prior to beginning employment as found in Section 6344 of the Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) and those individuals required by Section 6344.4 of the CPSL that are due to have their fingerprint checks renewed.
he law does not extend the fingerprinting and background check requirement for new volunteers under the CPSL, public school employees prior to employment, and others required to receive FBI background checks under different departments.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.