By BEN SWARTZ
WASHINGTON (Sept. 29, 2008)—States need to provide veteran's services the federal government has let slip through the cracks, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown told a national audience Friday at the Congressional Black Caucus' Veteran's Braintrust at the Washington Convention Center.
"When veterans take off their uniforms, they are Marylanders, they are Iowans, they are Californians, they are our neighbors, and we cannot sit back idly and watch as the federal government fails to respond," Brown said.
Lack of services—particularly mental health services—available to veterans living in rural areas is the fundamental problem veterans face, Brown said. The majority of veterans' services are located in urban centers, which skip over the increasingly high percentage of veterans living in rural areas, he said.
"When they leave the service, (veterans) are returning to their rural communities," Brown said, "and what they find is that there is a lack of services available to them in those communities."
Maryland's Veterans Behavioral Health initiative, which passed in the 2008 legislative session, is improving services for veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar programs should be adopted elsewhere, Brown said. The initiative establishes four regional coordinators for greater organization between veteran's services on the state and federal level.
Maryland has funded the initiative with $2.8 million, an amount Brown called "the tip of the iceberg."
Brown asked his audience to lobby in their home states for similar measures.
"Any obstacle we have between a veteran and behavioral and health services is an obstacle we need to remove," Brown said. "I charge you, go back to your states, don't let the federal government off the hook, go back and ask, 'What are you doing for our veterans in our rural and our urban communities?'"
Brown served a 10-month tour of Iraq in 2004 and is a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. He is the highest-ranking elected official to be a veteran of the Iraq war.
Retired Marine Maj. J. G. Liddle, a teacher of Marine Corps JROTC at Crossland High School in Temple Hills who attended the Braintrust, said the lieutenant governor's devotion to veteran's rights is much more poignant given his military service record.
"He's got a dynamic personality, and he's got the credibility to walk the walk because of his time wearing our country's uniform and his service to our country," Liddle said.
Brown will travel across Maryland for the next few days to meet and educate veterans about the services available to them under the initiative.
"Maryland seeks to be the most veteran- and military-family- friendly state in the country," Brown said before the discussion. "And under Governor (Martin) O'Malley's leadership I think we've made great strides in the last 18 months and look forward to doing more."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.