Health care, suicide, homelessness top veterans concerns
CENTREVILLE — Congressman Andy Harris, R-Md.-1st, held a round table discussion with American Legion Post 18 members in Centreville Friday, June 1, to discuss a host of issues facing veterans of every stripe.
Among the topics were veteran homelessness, alarming veteran suicide rates, inconsistencies in care at VA hospitals and pathways to citizenship for documented immigrants who join the armed forces.
This was part of regular meetings Harris has with area constituents throughout the year to keep his legislative agenda focused.
“All veterans should take an active part in making sure their fellow veterans are taken care of,” Harris said. “This is about seeing if the government is fulfilling its promise to to veterans. I know the Chairman of the VA Committee very well and we’re going to discuss the issues from this meeting. The Ppesident is fully committed to this and we have a Congress willing to [find solutions] as well.”
Among the top issues was the increasing rate of suicide among veterans both in Maryland and nationwide.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 7,388 veterans committed suicide nationally in 2014 with 89 taking place in the state. To date, Maryland has a rate of 23.1 percent, which is lower than the national percentage of 38.4 percent.
With much of the focus on treatment of issues like PTSD, drug or alcohol addiction and depression, identifying those at risk still relies heavily on individuals seeking help within the VA hospital system.
For the Eastern Shore, that includes thousands of potential patients looking for traditional doctor’s care as well as the mental health visits.
The 2016 Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs Annual Report estimated 1,850 veterans in Kent County, 4,549 in Queen Anne’s County and 3,738 in Talbot County. Veteran outreach by the MDVA is a two-pronged approach with traditional forums in communities and a recently emphasized effort to include desktop and mobile devices.
“We hear from our fellow veterans every day about issues they face,” said Vince Higgins, Centreville American Legion Post 18 commander. “So when we can gather them and talk to our elected officials, it definitely helps. We’re primarily in a rural area on the Eastern Shore so you hear about these issues in more populated areas. But our resources here are more spread out and less than those other areas.”
Veteran homelessness in Maryland is not limited to major city centers like Baltimore as the Maryland Interagency Council on Homelessness reported in 2017.
The state currently has an estimated 2,165 homeless veterans annually with 445 in shelters and another 91 unsheltered. Efforts by the state to end homelessness across the board were initially stepped up with Senate Bill 796 during the 2014 session of the General Assembly to examine statewide initiatives aimed at ending homelessness.
The legislation outlined the membership of the council, which includes representatives from 13 state agencies, three representatives from local Continuums of Care and nine advocates from throughout the state as well as a community member who has experienced homelessness.
Veterans in attendance also voiced their concern over a seemingly revolving door of both doctors and nurse practitioners at area VA hospitals precipitating redundant visits to simply establish the patient’s history.
“They have trouble in Cambridge keeping [primary medical staff] so they bring in people temporarily for six months or a year because they can’t fill the slots. So we have ask about what’s going on with the primary care physicians,” concluded Harris.
For more information on the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs, contact 1-844-698-2311 or visit www.va.gov.
Anyone contemplating suicide is urged to contact the state crisis hotline at 1-800-422-0009.