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AARP AARP States Maryland Veterans

AARP MD Veterans Corner – March 2019

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The following edition of Veterans Corner is written by AARP volunteer and Navy Veteran Brian Smith.

On Thursday, February 7, Governor Hogan signed a proclamation declaring 2019 as Maryland’s “Year of the Veteran.” Many veterans and family members joined the governor at the Maryland State House for the announcement and the reception that followed. Now onward toward making this “Year of the Veteran” truly meaningful, namely by enacting veterans-related legislation.

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Governor Hogan, Maryland Veterans Affairs Secretary Owings, and many veterans attended the “Year of the Veteran” proclamation ceremony and reception



Early this session, I had the opportunity to interview U.S. Congressman Anthony Brown, who represents the constituents of Maryland’s 4th Congressional District about protecting seniors’ retirement security and veterans’ suicide. It is definitely worth watching!      

We have just passed the mid-point for the session and there are nearly 2,400 bills under consideration in both chambers. This year, I have been advocating on suicide prevention, expanding property tax exemptions to cover more of our most-severely disabled veterans, military retiree income security, and recreational therapy opportunities for disabled veterans and Gold Star families.

Suicide Prevention and Mental Health

One of my main interests, and the focus of this month’s update, is addressing the mental health needs of veterans, with an eye toward suicide prevention. Many people think that it is an issue affecting our younger veterans, but it actually impacts more of our older veterans. Here are some of the distressing realities as reported by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:

  • About 20 veterans a day nationwide commit suicide
  • Of those, about 14 will have had little or no contact with VA Health services
  • Male veterans ages 18-34 have experienced the highest rate of suicide
  • Male veterans ages 55 and older have had the highest count of suicide
  • Female veteran suicide rates were 80% higher compared to non-veteran adult women
  • Male veteran suicide rates were 40% higher compared to non-veteran adult men
  • 982 Maryland veterans committed suicide between 2005 and 2016
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Brian Smith of AARP Maryland and Pat Guibao of the American Legion Maryland Department holding the “Year of the Veteran” proclamation



Clearly, if this is the “Year of the Veteran”, it is time to fight to save the lives of those that have fought for our freedom. AARP Maryland is supporting several important bills that aim to do just that.

Recently, I appeared before the Senate Finance Committee in support of Senator William C. Smith, Jr.’s Senate Bill 521. This bill directs the Maryland Department of Health to develop a suicide prevention comprehensive action plan to address the scourge of veterans suicide. It would result in greater collaboration between federal, state and local partners and provide a more coherent, networked web of support services to engage veterans at the federal, state, and local levels. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a new partnering initiative with several states. Passing this legislation should help position Maryland to join this effort.

Help for Disabled Veterans

Representing AARP Maryland, I have also testified in support of three bills sponsored by Senator Bryan Simonaire. Senate Bill 105 would enable the Maryland Service Animal Program fund to provide grants to Maryland nonprofits that provide equine therapy programs to disabled veterans, which would be particularly beneficial for those suffering from PTSD. There are several fantastic programs in Maryland that would benefit from this program expansion, including Chesapeake Therapeutic Riding (Abingdon), Horses Help Heroes (Crofton), and Maryland Therapeutic Riding (Crownsville). Check ‘em out!

Senator Simonaire’s Senate Bills 95 and 155 would allow persons purchasing state recreational licenses to make a voluntary contribution to the Recreational License Donation Program, which supports recreational therapy opportunities for severely disabled veterans and Gold Star families, either by providing recreational licenses or through grants to nonprofits that afford those groups recreational therapy programs.

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(l-r) Joe Pruden and Pat Guibao of the American Legion Maryland Department, Sen. Bryan Simonaire, Todd Desgrosseilliers, and Brian Smith



Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing 

In previous Veterans Corners, I have mentioned the fantastic programs offered by the La Plata, Maryland-based nonprofit Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing. It was an honor to be joined in testimony by Todd Desgrosseilliers, their CEO. Todd, a career Marine, was medically retired due to combat injuries received in Iraq, for which he was awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroism. Todd brings that same Marine Corps dedication to Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing’s mission of healing our nation’s wounded, ill, and injured warriors. As Todd stated in testimony, “the five words I hear the most from our participants are, “thanks for saving my life”.” Senator Simonaire’s bills would help organizations like this do even more to save our warriors!

More to Come!

There are so many things happening in Annapolis this session! I am tracking nearly forty bills and intend to testify in support of at least twenty. Yet, I’ve only discussed four items in this newsletter! Plan on a much more comprehensive update next month, and in the meantime share this information on the Veterans Crisis Line!

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Join AARP Maryland for Delegation Fridays in Annapolis

On most Friday mornings, when the legislature is in session, the delegates meet by county for a deep dive into local issues. The meetings provide a great opportunity for our AARP members to visit Annapolis and hear about matters that directly affect their home cities and counties.

Delegation Fridays are a fantastic opportunity to network with AARP Maryland staff and advocacy volunteers, eat a great meal, and watch your elected representatives in action. If you are interested in learning more, please contact our Tammy Bresnahan, our state advocacy director, or Karen Kalla, our volunteer legislative assistant.

 

For more veterans resources, visit AARP Maryland’s Veterans Resources page at  aarp.org/mdveterans .

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