Lt. Gov. Chairs First Mtg of Vets Health Advisory Board in Charlotte Hall

CHARLOTTE HALL, Md. (Sept. 25, 2008) – Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown today chaired the first meeting of the Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home in St. Mary’s County. During the 2008 Legislation Session, the O’Malley/Brown administration introduced a comprehensive veterans legislative package, that included the creation of the Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board to improve coordination of services between DHMH, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, the Maryland National Guard and the Maryland Defense Force.

“The Veterans Behavioral Health Advisory Board has difficult but important work ahead of it. I am confident that our work will go a long way toward bettering the lives of those who serve and the families that stand by them,” Lt. Governor Brown said. “Too many of our veterans are falling through the cracks of a dated VA system that is simply not designed to meet the needs of today’s military. The Advisory Board looks forward to opening a dialogue with veteran agencies in our state, as well as with our federal partners, to improve access to services for every Marylander who wore the uniform in service on our behalf.”

The cornerstone of the O’Malley/Brown administration’s veterans package was the Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative that set aside $2.8 million for veterans behavioral health services. The initiative provides funding for four regional resource coordinators who will help direct behavioral health services to veterans in need.

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. Other studies have found that today’s returning veterans have a significantly higher rate of suicide than veterans from previous conflicts.

“The O’Malley/Brown Administration has shown its foresight and commitment to the mental health needs of returning veterans,” said DHMH Secretary John M. Colmers and a member of the board. “Many veterans of the Afghanistan and Iraqi war suffer from symptoms associated with post traumatic stress disorder and, worse, contemplate suicide as they try to re-acclimate to civilian life after experiencing the traumas of war. This group will work hard to ensure that veterans and their family members receive the care and attention they deserve.”

“We must do more to help our returning veterans access the treatment and services they need. Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Brown have proven their commitment to Maryland’s veterans,” said board member and Maryland Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Adkins. “Maryland has a long and rich history of supporting our veterans and I am proud to be part of an administration that is continuing and strengthening that tradition.”

As it moves forward, the 12-member Advisory Board will focus on ways to improve behavioral health services for veterans and their family members. This will include an immediate analysis of available services, identification of gaps in those services and impediments that prevent veterans and their family members from receiving the services.

The Advisory Board is also tasked to provide recommendations that will improve outreach to this population, build provider capacity, increase provider training, and provide services for those who are not eligible for benefits from the federal government due to certain extenuating circumstances.

“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 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or Maryland’s Public Mental Health System.”

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.

“Many of our troops have returned home physically but not mentally. Our goal is to provide rehabilitation services that will provide for safe reentry back into the community,” said Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (District 23), a member of the Advisory Board and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

Today’s meeting is part of Brown’s “Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans” tour that was launched earlier this week with events in Boonsboro and Easton. Brown will continue the tour tomorrow when he speaks on a veterans panel tomorrow at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference on Capitol Hill. The tour is aimed to help educate veterans and their families of the services available to them through a variety of state initiatives.

Brown, a 24-year member of the military and Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, is the country’s highest-elected official to have served a tour of duty during the current Iraq war.

Additional members of the board include:

· Delegate Karen Montgomery

· Secretary Adkins Designee James (Jim) A. Martin, Ph.D., BCD, Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

· Colonel Charles Williams (retired)

· Ronald J. Zaczek

· Paulette Baldwin

· Scott Rose

· Captain Constance A. Walker, Ret.

· Joseph Liberto, M.D.

Source: Office of Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown

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