Lt. Governor Brown Launches "Maryland's Commitment to Veterans" Tour, Announces Expansion of Veterans Services in Western Maryland
BOONSBORO, MD (September 23, 2008) – Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown kicked off the “Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans” Tour today in Boonsboro, Maryland. Brown, a veteran of the Iraq war and a Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, held a roundtable discussion with veterans at the American Legion Post 10 in Boonsboro where he announced plans for an aggressive outreach effort to veteran communities that will run through the end of the year. Following the informal roundtable, Brown was joined by Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Adkins and DHMH Mental Hygiene Administration Executive Director Dr. Brian Hepburn for a press conference announcing the expansion of veterans’ behavioral health services in Western Maryland.
Brown launched the “Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans” tour to educate Maryland’s veterans about services available to them through a variety of state initiatives. Brown will hold a similar roundtable discussion and press conference tomorrow in Easton and will preside over the first meeting of the Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board on Thursday in Leonardtown. On Friday, Brown will sit on a veterans panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
“I am proud to announce the launch of the ‘Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans’ tour here in Boonsboro. Governor O’Malley and I are committed to providing the brave men and women who serve in our name with the support and care they demand,” Lt. Governor Brown said. “Too many of our servicemembers are falling through the cracks of a broken and dated federal VA system, and it is falling to the states to pick up the slack. Maryland serves as a national example of what we all must do to honor the service of our veterans.”
“Lt. Governor Brown’s service to our nation is matched only by his dedicated service to the people of Maryland,” noted Governor O’Malley. “I’m proud to have Lt. Governor Brown lead this effort on behalf of the administration as we continue to find new ways to support our veterans who are now returning home from combat and those from years past who call our State home. We have an obligation to honor our veterans not only with our words, but with our actions as well.”
During the 2008 Maryland Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed the Veterans Behavioral Health initiative which allocated $2.8 million to expand mental health services for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The initiative specifically targets resources and staff to rural regions, including the Eastern Shore, where there are spatial disconnects to health and behavioral health services. During the press conference, Brown introduced Ben Taylor and Mike Duggan, respectively, as the Western Maryland and Central Maryland Regional Resource Coordinators. Taylor currently works with the Washington County Mental Health Authority. Duggan works with Baltimore Mental Health Systems, Inc.
The Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative took effect in July. A rollout of the initiative is planned for October.
“Maryland veterans have served their nation nobly and honorably. Maryland must ensure these veterans receive the services they need,” Secretary Adkins said. “I applaud Governor O'Malley and Lt. Governor Brown for their leadership and their support of Maryland’s veterans.”
Studies show that as many as one out of three veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffers from mental health problems, including traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. Of those veterans, more than two out of three do not receive the proper medical attention that is necessary. Additional studies have found the suicide rate of today’s returning veterans is significantly higher than the suicide rate of veterans from previous conflicts.
“Veterans are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with emotional reactions to their experiences that are interfering with their ability to reintegrate into family and community,” said Dr. Brian Hepburn, Executive Director of DHMH Mental Hygiene Administration. “We are committed to help these veterans get behavioral health services from the US Department of Veterans Affairs or through the Public Mental Health System.”
The Veterans’ Behavior Health legislation was part of a comprehensive veterans legislative packet introduced by the O’Malley/Brown administration. Other components of the administration’s veterans initiatives include an investment of $800,000 for reintegration services to help veterans transition from combat back to the community; an additional $150,000 for veterans scholarships; $320,000 to open two new veterans service centers in Hagerstown and Charlotte Hall and to convert a part-time office in Bel Air to a full-time service center; $1 million for the Disabled Veteran Business Loan program; and unemployment insurance for the spouses of military personnel. The package serves as a national example of what states can do for veterans to fill the gaps left by the federal government.
Lt. Governor Brown said that the federal government has an obligation to provide essential services to veterans but also noted the numbers of veterans falling through the cracks of an out-dated Veterans Affairs system. Today’s U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs still resembles that which was originally designed to serve a World War II urban, draft-era military. Today’s military, however, is made up disproportionately of rural servicemembers who often live a great distance away from veterans medical facilities. For example, a veteran living in Boonsboro must travel to West Virginia to seek treatment at the nearest Veterans Medical Center. The primary goal of the O’Malley/Brown legislation and the Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board will be to strengthen the coordination between state and federal services.
For additional information on the O’Malley/Brown veterans package, visit www.governor.maryland.gov/ltgovernor/veterans.