By JENN BOGDAN
BOONSBORO (Sept. 24, 2008)—Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown said Tuesday that Maryland is committed to improving the mental health and other services available to the state's veterans through a new initiative created to supplement the efforts of the federal government.
Passed in this year's legislative session, Maryland's Veterans Behavioral Health initiative allocated $2.8 million to expand services for state veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. This week Brown will travel across Maryland meeting with veterans to discuss their needs and educate them about the state resources available to them.
Among other things, the new initiative allowed Maryland to hire three regional coordinators who will help veterans connect with medical caregivers. The coordinator positions are designed to eliminate the confusion of dealing with unclear automated systems and dense federal requirements that can be an obstacle for veterans seeking care.
Brown, an Iraq war veteran and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, called the current U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs system "broken and dated," and said it is unable to handle the needs of Maryland's veterans.
"It's not because the men and women who work in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs don't care about veterans, but it's a system that is no longer designed to meet the challenges and the needs of today's veterans and their families," said Brown, at a press conference at American Legion Post 10 in Boonsboro.
As many as one in three veterans who return from Iraq are plagued with mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. More than two in three don't receive the proper medical care, said Dr. Brian Hepburn, executive director of Maryland's Mental Hygiene Administration.
Hepburn said the initiative aims to distinguish the needs of veterans of different age groups.
While many older veterans are comfortable seeking help through phone communication, many younger veterans are much more likely to seek care through online resources. Thanks to the initiative, a web portal linking Maryland veterans to local care providers is slated to be running by November.
"There will be younger vets that would use services online before they would access services going to actually see somebody," said Hepburn. "This could allow them to get some help in a discreet way."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.