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On Veterans Day, serving those who serve us

I learned from my parents that public service is the noblest calling any of us can answer. As a boy, I watched my father, a doctor in New York's poorest neighborhoods, treat struggling families and the elderly — often out of his own pocket. I saw my mother raise five children, no easy task for any parent, and challenge each of us to pursue our dreams. Years later, while I was in college, driven by their example and inspired by our nation's men and women in uniform, I answered a call to give back.

I joined ROTC as an undergraduate and deployed into active duty shortly after earning my degree. I spent five years on active duty, flying helicopters over Germany during the final years of the Cold War. After taking a three year sabbatical from military service to attend law school, I joined the U.S. Army Reserves. In 2005, I served a tour of duty in Iraq and watched as Iraqis voted in their first free and open election in more than a generation. And today, I drill regularly and command the 153rd Legal Service Organization based outside of Philadelphia.

I've tried to raise my son and daughter with the values I learned from my parents and the Army: honor, loyalty, hard work and to contribute to building a better world. In many ways, these are the same values that have shaped my beliefs as a public official in Maryland and inspired me to fight for veterans in every part of our state.

Our veterans have dedicated their lives to protecting men and women they have never met. They've put everything on the line to protect the freedoms we enjoy as Americans — their lives, careers and families. We have a fundamental obligation to honor the sacrifices they've made, as well as those of their families.

Despite the public admiration and celebration of our veterans, Gov. Martin O'Malley and I saw a gap in services for many veterans when we first took office — specifically in the areas of behavioral health services, higher education and workforce training.

Some argue that Maryland should leave veteran services to the federal government. We disagree. We all have an obligation serve those who served in our name. That's why we've invested $2.4 million in the Iraq Afghanistan scholarship program, helping more than 450 veterans pursue a higher education. We understand that veteran business owners often face challenges other businesses do not, which is why we've protected no-interest small business loans for service-disabled veteran owned businesses.

This year, we've placed a new focus on employment. In partnership with the building trades, we established the Helmets2Hardhats initiative to connect veterans with apprenticeships. And last month, we launched the Warrior to Worker program to streamline education, training and employment services for veterans in state government.

But it was the alarming number of servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with invisible injuries — post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury — that inspired our most significant step forward.

Working with the General Assembly, veterans advocates and the health care community, we passed the Veterans Behavioral Health Act to provide mental and behavioral health services to all veterans and expanded our efforts to reach and serve rural communities. In addition, we signed a formal agreement with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that allows us to provide better access to care in every part of our state.

I joined the Army because my parents raised me with a simple belief: Before you can serve yourself, you have to serve others. Veterans across our state and our country were raised with the same belief. This Veterans Day, we honor their service and pause to say, "Thank you." And the best way we can say thanks is to remember the obligation we have to serve them.

Anthony G. Brown is Maryland's Lt. Governor. He has been a member of the United States Armed Forces for 26 years, is currently a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves and is the nation's highest-ranking elected official to have served a tour of duty in Iraq.

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