Helping Our Heroes: Veterans Sanctuary

By Jennifer LoConte

They served our country throughout history and protected us both here and abroad.  Yet, our country’s bravest heroes are often the ones who suffer the most.  Drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and mental health disorders continue to claim the lives of our US veterans.  Veterans Sanctuary, an in-house treatment facility located at 24 S. Fifth Street, Allentown, offers hope to our military men and women for a better life by serving  veterans and providing support for their families.  It is a division of Treatment Trends Inc., a non-profit organization that recognizes the global needs of chronic addicts and provides a comprehensive continuum of services designed to increase the likelihood of success for the individual recovering from addiction.

While The Department of Veterans Affairs provides treatment facilities throughout the country, they are unable to offer assistance to every veteran due to certain eligibility requirements as well as limited programs. At Veterans Sanctuary, all veterans, regardless of their discharge status, are welcome. A treatment facility dedicated to veterans only is based on a growing statistical need.  Pennsylvania has the fourth largest population of veterans in active military service and there are approximately 60,000 living within the Lehigh Valley.  Nationwide, it is estimated that 1 in 4 of the homeless population is a veteran and 20 to 30% of all veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The 37,000 sq. foot Allentown treatment facility was formerly the Christian Education Building owned by St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Diana Heckman, Director of Development, explained that the majority of the renovations took years.  She says, “Originally purchased in 2008, there were leaky roofs, a dilapidated kitchen, inefficient heating and windows, the need for an elevator; it needed a lot of ‘TLC’.”  Of the $2.6 million needed to renovate, over $1.5 million has been raised thus far.  Having officially openedits doors to clients in July, the building is warm, inviting and reflective of those it serves.  Currently, there are 30 beds, consisting of both 2- and 4-person bedrooms.  In 2012, another 30 beds will be available as construction completes on the third floor. Large windows, ample lighting, serenely colored walls and colorful, handmade quilts cover each bed, all donated by volunteers.  The original Sunday school blackboards remain in most of the bedrooms and were recently decorated by local Girl Scouts, expressing words of thanks to the soldiers for serving our country.  Jason Kamora, Clinical Director, is also a fellow veteran who served in the US Air Force.  He says, “I view this job as my next deployment, serving our veterans by helping them to heal.  It’s something I have to do.”

The original two-story auditorium is expansive and the hub of the facility.  On the lower level is a large dining area and stage used for art and drama therapy as well as a central location to involve clients within their community. Kamora notes, “It is imperative that clients start a dialogue with civilians to talk openly about their military experience in order to help them heal.”  On the second level of the auditorium is a large library, consisting of over 800 US and military history books as well as self-help books. Most have been donated by two local women whose deceased husbands served in the military. Heckman says that additional books are on the way.

The gymnasium and adjoining exercise room will give veterans the chance to physically rehabilitate themselves.  An elliptical machine, treadmills, weights and additional equipment were generously donated.  A daily yoga program  helps clients to learn the art of mindfulness. According to Kamora, “This type of exercise actually helps to manage trauma and stress by slowing down the body, helping to make better decisions.”  Clients will appreciate the brand new, commercial kitchen and, just as in the armed forces, they will be responsible for doing their own cooking, a skill which may assist them with job training. “The same hierarchy and structure that exists in the military will be followed here, assigning additional responsibilities as they continue with their treatment program,” Kamora notes. A military-themed Map Room will depict wall maps from all US engaged conflicts.  There will also be a display case filled with personal items from clients’ military experiences, such as medals and patches.  “Combat vets who often suffer from PTSD and other traumas will be encouraged to share their stories here.”

The staff is mostly comprised of former military men and women. “Clients appreciate the support from staff members who may have gone through similar situations while serving and can relate better,” Notes Heckman. An on-site nurse, physician and psychiatrist will be available and should the client require outside care, transportation is provided.  The average length of stay is 90 days, though treatment plans are tailored to fit each client’s need and includes individual and group therapy, work and recreational therapy, and art and drama therapy.  Vocational and job skills will also be a large aspect of treatment.  Kamora also stressed the importance of educating the client’s family, as well as encouraging their involvement.  “An overnight Family Room is available to accommodate out-of-town families that are unable to financially afford lodging.” Clients are referred from local hospitals, VAs, shelters, police departments, correctional facilities as well as those who refer themselves.

Veterans Sanctuary is licensed by the PA Dept. of Health and is not funded by the government.  They depend on both financial and volunteer support from corporations, foundations and the community.  Through the ongoing Buy A Brick Campaign, the front entrance way will be repaved with donor engraved bricks. So far, $23,000 has been raised in support of this campaign.  If you would like to make a monetary gift and/or volunteer your time at Veterans Sanctuary, visit or call 610-439-8479 for additional information.

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