“Now, what I can do is have you walk forward, and I can have that car explode,” said Dr. Sushma Roberts, a clinical psychologist. “Is that OK with you, sir?”
Brown — sitting in a small room at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baltimore — wore an apparatus on his head that showed him video and emitted smells, such as burning rubber, while creating a virtual Iraq.
The device will help veterans in a safe environment learn to control their instincts and calm post-traumatic stress disorder, which afflicts nearly 20 percent of Iraq war veterans.
Brown, an Army veteran who in 2004 served 10 months in Iraq, took a two-hour tour of the medical center Monday, as part of an effort called Maryland’s Commitment to Veterans, to better understand the medical help offered to the state’s 484,000 veterans.
Brown and Gov. Martin O’Malley pushed a legislative package in the spring that provided $2.8 million to improve behavioral health services for veterans and created an advisory board that met for the first time in September to improve communication between state and federal governments.
“There is certainly much more the state can do in partnership with the federal government,” Brown said in an interview. “We can be a partner in delivering mental and behavioral health to veterans in rural communities.”
Rigid federal guidelines often make it difficult for veterans in rural areas to get mental health help, Brown said. Veterans who have a problem Veterans Affairs is not equipped to treat would be referred to a private provider, but guidelines may require them, for example, to go at a time when they typically would be at work. Brown hopes to loosen that criteria.
“We are finding that the smallest obstacle often becomes insurmountable for that veteran to get care,” Brown said. “So we need to make it as convenient for these veterans as possible.”
He was particularly impressed by an electronic system that each day ensures patients get their correct medication, and as he made his way through the center, he stopped several times to thank veterans.
Reaching across seats to shake the hand of Eddie Tardy, a 61-year-old city resident who served 10 years in the National Guard, Brown asked, “How you making out?”
“Doing the best I can,” Tardy replied. “First time I’ve been here.”