Bratten selected veterans secretary

Retired Army captain wants to streamline access to programs

September 15, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has chosen Thomas E. Bratten Jr., a disabled Vietnam combat soldier, as secretary of Maryland's new Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bratten, 56, has been director of the Maryland Veterans Commission, the largest of the three agencies that will be merged into the new department Oct. 1. He said his goal is to bring "one-stop shopping" to Maryland veterans.

"I don't want to go someplace where I have to go 27 different places and do 27 different things," he said.

At the governor's request, the General Assembly passed legislation this year creating the department by combining the veterans commission, the War Memorial Commission and the Maryland Veterans Home Commission. The bill fulfilled a promise Glendening made to veterans groups during his 1998 re-election campaign.

Glendening contended, and legislators agreed, that the state's 530,000 veterans would be better served by having a single agency to handle their concerns. The department will be one of the smallest in the state's government, with 77 employees and a budget of $10.7 million.

In an interview with The Sun, Glendening said he had Bratten in mind to be secretary from the time he decided to create the position. "Just about every veteran in the state" pressed for Bratten's appointment, he said.

Bratten, a retired Army captain, was disabled in a land mine explosion in Vietnam's Central Highlands in 1970. For his service, he received the Purple Heart, Silver Star and a Bronze Star.

A folksy Kentucky native known for his jokes about his disabilities, he has served as chief administrator of the veterans commission since 1992. He was a member of the panel for six years. The commission is responsible for helping veterans obtain benefits and managing the state's five veterans cemeteries and many of its war memorials.

Sen. Clarence W. Blount, a World War II combat soldier who is the General Assembly's leading advocate for veterans, said Glendening made an outstanding choice in Bratten. "He's in the trenches, and he's been there," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Bratten also brings political credentials to the post. A former chairman of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, he serves in that role for Garrett County Democrats.

Bratten had a long and varied managerial career in the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Transportation and State Highway Administration.

He is a certified counselor for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that often affects combat veterans.

Bratten makes $67,173 as director of the commission. In his new post, his salary could go as high as $82,000, but the final amount will be determined by the Board of Public Works.

Pub Date: 9/15/99

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