Democratic gubernatorial candidate Douglas F. Gansler unveiled a plan Wednesday to improve state services for veterans while taking a swipe at rival Anthony G. Brown over the O'Malley administration's management of the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
With his plan and his criticism of Brown, Gansler is taking aim at one of the lieutenant governor's greatest strengths -- his 30-year record in the Army on active duty and in the reserves.
Gansler brought up the issue of the administration's handling of veterans' issues during a televised debate that also included Del. Heather R. Mizeur of Montgomery County.
The attorney general's campaign released a statement Wednesday by a former O'Malley administration official lambasting the performance of his former department.
Wilbert Forbes, a Vietnam veteran and former deputy decretary for veterans affairs, charged that the deprtment had been "disgracefully mismanaged."
"High turnover rates, ineffective leadership, inadequate services, and a lack of oversight have done a disservice to our soldiers," Forbes said.
Justin Schall, Brown's campaign manager, released a statement striking back:
"It's sad that during Military Appreciation Month Doug Gansler can't release a plan to help Veterans without attacking Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown and his service. After Gansler questioned whether or not Anthony had a "real job" while he served a tour in the Iraq War we all hoped that Gansler would at least attempt to stay positive on veterans issues, but I guess that's asking too much from Doug and his campaign. "
Edward Chow Jr., state secretary of veterans' affairs, said his department's performance has improved significantly under O'Malley. He said that the number of service-connected injury claims handled by department officials has increase by more than 75 percent since early in the administration. Meanwhile, he said the state-operated Charlotte Hall Veterans Home recently received a top rating in an audit by the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Included in Gansler's five point plan for veterans was one proposal he's been touting since last year -- increasing the amount of military retirement income that is exempt from the state income tax. Gansler said he would gradually raise that from $5,000 to $50,000.
Gansler also proposed creation of an Operation Home Base program under which department officials would contact military transition centers each month to identify Marylanders who are being mustered out and prove them with information about state services for veterans.
Other proposals include improved transportation to veterans centers and medical clinics, greater outreach by state colleges and universities to veterans and a push for federal legislation requiring that veterans to be given an estimate of how long it will take to process their disability claims.