Precious little has changed for the better since last year's investigation by The Post of the disgraceful way that America has been treating its wounded veterans of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq. In its sluggish reaction to the scandals reported at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and elsewhere, Congress did make some important improvements in health care and benefits, but gaining access to sorely needed services remains far too difficult for veterans with serious emotional and physical injuries. In Maryland and Virginia, lawmakers in both parties are crafting sound proposals to enhance benefits and make them more accessible, especially to veterans in rural areas.
The Virginia General Assembly has approved legislation providing mental health aid for some returning veterans. In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has proposed legislation to close gaps in federal care, with a $3.5 million pilot program to facilitate services for mental and behavioral health troubles. His point man on the issue, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), knows full well the tragedies that beset veterans; he served as an Army reservist in Iraq. Mr. Brown notes that the suicide rate among veterans increased by 20 percent from 2006 to 2007, and that suicide attempts by veterans increased by 600 percent. For veterans returning to rural areas, mental health services can be hours away, when prompt care is especially important. "The quicker you treat someone, the more likely you will be successful," Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers said at a hearing. Transportation systems would be a critical part of the legislative package, along with additional crisis services and family counseling. More federal assistance ought to be in the cards eventually, but supporters of the Maryland and Virginia measures point up the need for urgency on the home front, for facilities and care to treat post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses that are haunting veterans and tearing their families apart. In Annapolis, the bipartisan effort to respond deserves passage before legislators go home.