Gansler Proposes Plan to Help Maryland Veterans
Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Douglas Gansler unveiled a plan aimed at helping Maryland veterans get the care they need and opportunities they deserve, from the moment they return home from service through their retirement. The plan calls for improvements to the way existing state veterans’ services are provided, to ensure better care and outreach to those who need it. Ineffective management of Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) i, like the botched rollout of the state health exchange, has prevented too many veterans from getting connected with vital services.
“The Lt. Governor has said Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs has been effective. Nothing could be further from the truth. Under the O’Malley/Brown watch, it has been disgracefully mismanaged and is an embarrassment to all Marylanders who claim to care about our veterans,” said Wilbert Forbes, a Vietnam veteran and former Maryland Deputy Secretary for Veteran Affairs. “High turnover rates, ineffective leadership, inadequate services, and a lack of oversight have done a disservice to our soldiers. Doug Gansler will change that. He has a plan to honor our veterans and a successful record of committing to the tough fights and getting the job done. He will not let our vets down.”
“As a retired veteran, I am very impressed with Attorney General Gansler’s plan for military pensions,” said Arthur “Coop” Cooper, Vietnam veteran and Maryland State President of the The Retired Enlisted Association. “Maryland’s retired veterans want to live out our lives in this great state, stay close to our families, and his plan is a fair way of letting us do just that.”
“Currently, there are too many struggling veterans who have little to no contact with the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. Doug knows that to advocate for veterans at the federal level, we must be connected to them at the local level. He will tackle this problem head on,” said Bob Sharps, Vietnam veteran and Former Director of Outreach and Advocacy at the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs. “Doug knows that to help soldiers find jobs and homes when they come back, the state must proactively reach out to them. He will fight tooth and nail to make sure that Maryland’s bravest men and women are successful members of civilian life.”
“So much of being successful is getting a good education,” said Terrance Staley, an Iraq War veteran, current student and Gansler-Ivey field organizer. “But a lot of veterans I know don’t have the information to figure out how to enroll in or pay for degree programs. Doug Gansler’s plan will fight to make sure we all get that crucial information and that every veteran has a fair shot at his or her own future.”
“Maryland continues to be known as a state that is unfriendly to military retirees. Because Maryland refuses to exempt retirees’ pay from state and local taxes – like other states already do – our state loses revenue because many retirees who work in Maryland live in neighboring states instead of settling down here,” said Jack Fringer, Chairman of the Military Retired Veterans Task Force, and Task Force members John Whitman and Harvey Kaplan. “The Task Force agrees with the proposal being presented by Doug Gansler because it encompasses the goals needed to produce more Maryland residents living and working in our neighborhoods. Lt. Governor Brown has been silent on this issue, and we are still waiting for his response after seven years.”
“A lot of veterans come back with injuries and need critical medical services,” said Charles Eggleston, an Afghanistan and Iraq War and combat wounded veteran and the past State Commander of the Maryland Military Order of the Purple Heart. “Doug’s plan takes on the enormous responsibility of processing disability claims in Maryland and would guide veterans in their recovery every step of the way. It would help organizations like mine educate veterans on what treatment services are out there, connect them to care, and then follow up to make sure they’re thriving.”
“It’s easy to just blame the federal Department of Veterans Affairs for our problems in veterans’ care,” said Gansler, “But we have a responsibility in Maryland to do all we can at the state level to help the men and women who have given their lives to protect us. As governor, I will make sure that the Maryland VA is more actively seeking to connect veterans with transitional services, opportunities, education, and care.”
“My father was a Buffalo soldier who was able to return home and successfully transition to civilian life as a teacher,” said Gansler’s running mate, Delegate Jolene Ivey. “We need to make sure our veterans coming home now are given the same opportunities to thrive as members of the civilian community.”
Key components of Gansler’s Plan, “Honoring Those Who Fought for Us” include:
• “Operation Home Base”
Under “Operation Home Base,” the Outreach & Advocacy Program staff at the MDVA would establish regular, monthly contact with transition centers on U.S. military bases across the country to identify the soldiers returning home to Maryland and proactively contact them to connect them to state services, such as job training, housing assistance, medical attention, etc., based on individual need. A state outreach coordinator would then be assigned to each returning soldier as his or her MDVA contact to ensure the delivery of services.
• “Educate Our Heroes” Campaign
This initiative would increase outreach by Maryland’s colleges and universities to the veteran community, to make sure that all returning veterans know about their options for continuing education and tuition assistance. It would also encourage state schools to offer degree programs that are more aligned with military training. And it would require the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to hold for-profit colleges accountable for their alumni loan debt, annual student performance, and job placement results, so veterans can make informed decisions on whether or not to enroll.
• Tax Break for Retired Veterans
Maryland veterans should want to retire here after they complete their service here, yet many find the costs lower in other states, especially states that completely exempt military retirement pay ii. To remain competitive with those states, this plan would phase in a tax exemption for military retirees, increasing the current $5,000 exemption to $10,000 by FY2017, and then further increasing it by $5,000 per year until $50,000 of veteran retirement income is exempt, giving our retired veterans more financial security.
• Faster Filing Campaign
There are a variety of problems associated with processing veterans’ disability claims at the federal level. This campaign would partner with the Maryland congressional delegation to call for passing a federal law – the Faster Filing Act iii– that would require the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to give an estimate of processing time and award rates for all claims. As part of the campaign, Gansler would work to maximize federal funding available to Maryland under the Veterans’ Service Officer Grant to better fund veterans’ organizations across the state.
• Veterans Rider Collaborative
Lastly, many veterans live with limited transportation to veterans’ medical clinics and centers. This plan will foster a stronger connection to current federal and state transport options and partner with nonprofit veterans’ service organizations to coordinate rides to medical facilities.
The full proposal is found here: http://action.douggansler.com/page/-/Docs/VetsPlan-Gansler.pdf
[i] Maryland VetStat, Meeting Summary, Feb. 6, 2014 http://www.statestat.maryland.gov/reports/20140206_VetStat_Meeting_Summary.pdf (noting that awareness of the Veterans Full Employment Act “has been identified as an area in need of improvement”).
[ii] Chris Burk, “List: Military Retirement Income Tax,” Jan. 8, 2014, Veterans United Network, http://www.veteransunited.com/life/military-retirement-income-tax/.