This July 4th finds us with servicemen and women celebrating Independence Day 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 Barack 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 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 a period of time 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 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.
As we sit in our backyards watching fireflies rise and fireworks explode on July 4th, 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
The writer is director of the VA Maryland Health Care System.