JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — East Tennessee State University (ETSU) announced Thursday that a medical professor received more than $49,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to plan a Northeast Tennessee alliance to support veterans recovering from substance use disorder (SUD).

A release from the university stated that Dr. Anthony DeLucia, professor of research in the Quillen College of Medicine Department of Surgery, authored the Veterans Substance Abuse Support Alliance of Northeast Tennessee (VetSASA) grant.

The VetSASA grant will entail 18 months of planning, which will run through June 2023 and work to gain support from stakeholders across the eight-county region. DeLucia hopes to bring the coalition together in the fall of 2022 to develop initiatives.

VetSASA marks one of 17 projects receiving more than $5.5 million in the second round of Investments Supporting Partnerships In Recovery Ecosystems (INSPIRE), which is an ARC initiative that helps by creating programs to acknowledge the area’s SUD crisis and providing workforce assistance.

DeLucia stressed that this alliance will aim to provide outreach to veterans who may otherwise not know what steps to take next. He analyzed Veterans Affairs data, which revealed approximately 41,000 veterans living in the eight counties that make up the First Tennessee Development District (FTDD).

“Post-traumatic stress disorder, the despair found in the most severely disabled, everyday mental challenges, homelessness, food insecurity, lack of transportation, and more can create a fertile setting for suicides and use of opioids as well as other harmful substances,” he wrote. “The current problem is layered with complexities … (and) our veterans, particularly, languish as victims of ‘deaths of despair’ they incur as a result of inadequate bipartisan and nationwide measures.”

Since its launch in April 2021, ARC — a federal and state economic development partnership agency — has invested $14.9 million in 47 projects.