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Md.'s lieutenant governor promotes veterans program during Boonsboro visit

September 24, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

BOONSBORO -- Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown was at American Legion Post 10 in Boonsboro on Tuesday to promote a new program that will provide mental and behavioral health services to Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans in rural areas.

The program is designed to "plug the gap left by a broken and dated (U.S. Veterans Affairs) system," Brown said during a press conference outside of the American Legion.

"The system is no longer designed to meet the challenges and needs of today's veterans," Brown said.

He said the program, which is slated to start Oct. 1, will eliminate gaps in federal services by providing crisis intervention, outreach, case management and direct health services to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The Maryland General Assembly approved $2.8 million this year for the program, called the Veterans Behavioral Health Initiative.

Lt. Col. Clark Carr, a Hagerstown minister who is a chaplain in the Maryland Army National Guard, called the program a "great step" that will provide a buffer for veterans whose VA service falls short.

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"There is something left on those battlefields that cannot be codified in numbers or in programs or by a dollar sign. But what is encouraging to me today is to see that we're not left alone," Carr said.

The program includes $800,000 for reintegration services to help veterans make the transition from combat back into their communities, $150,000 for veterans' scholarships, $1 million for the Disabled Veterans Business Loan program and unemployment insurance for the spouses of military personnel.

Brown said the program is notable because it helps not only veterans, but their families as well.

Dr. Brian Hepburn, executive director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Mental Hygiene Administration, said the program is not meant to undercut the work of the VA system.

"Our goal is not to replace the U.S. VA. Our goal is to help them do a better job providing services to our veterans," Hepburn said.

Four regional offices, including one in Hagerstown, will open across the state under the program.

Each one will house a coordinator who will field calls from veterans and assess their needs.

"What they'll do is essentially become an advocate for the veteran ... to facilitate VA services," Hepburn said.

If that is not possible, the coordinator will work to get the person into the public health system.

Hepburn said a toll-free number will be set up Oct. 1 for veterans interested in the program.

Veterans may call the number, 1-877-770-4801, or visit the Hagerstown center at 339 E. Antietam St., Suite 5, for information about the program.

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