Once again, we celebrate July 4th as the anniversary of the day 235 years ago that we declared independence, founding a nation based on the beliefs that all people are created equal and that prizes liberty and justice. This July 4th finds us with service men and women fighting for those same ideals. They will be celebrating this anniversary of American Independence in other countries, carrying with them the creed that all men and women are created equal and endowed with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Recently, President Obama announced a drawback of our troops in Afghanistan. Some of those troops will continue with their military careers, while others will transition to civilian life as Veterans.

I urge Marylanders to be proactive in welcoming home our newly-returned Veterans and to participate in helping them to transition and readjust to civilian life. Many Veterans do not even realize they’ve been injured until after they have been home for awhile and discover a host of health issues that went unnoticed or were ignored during their service. Readjusting to civilian life also brings its own set of challenges. Clinicians at the VA Maryland Health Care System are trained to recognize the health issues caused by environmental exposures and service-related situations that can affect these returning Veterans.

More than 14,000 newly-returned Veterans are currently enrolled in the VA Maryland Health Care System. The surge that was deployed earlier this year is expected to return, adding to these numbers. I encourage you to remind a returning combat Veteran that they are eligible for cost-free medical care from the VA for conditions related to their service for five years after the date of their discharge. Throughout the VA Maryland Health Care System, we are dedicated to ensuring that all returning Veterans receive the highest quality of care in a timely manner. If you know a returning Veteran, please urge them to enroll for VA health care by calling 1-800-463-6295, ext. 7259.

It’s often difficult for Veterans with emotional or behavioral problems to seek the help they need and deserve because they often feel ashamed and view their suffering as a form of weakness. The best way to thank a Veteran for his or her service is by assuring them that any health issue can be treated effectively and that enrolling for VA health care benefits may be the best gift they can give their families.

As we sit in our backyards watching fireflies rise and fireworks explode this Independence Day, remember that freedom is not free. Thank our Veterans and their families for their sacrifice and service, fly Old Glory, and think about calling your nearest VA Medical Center to visit or volunteer.


Dennis H. Smith

Director, VA Maryland Health Care System