Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department seeks money to increase administrators pay

The Oklahoma Veterans Affairs Department is seeking more than $250,000 in new money next year to pay for upping the salaries of five administrators.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: January 29, 2013
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The restructuring comes as the Veterans Affairs Department has come under scrutiny after allegations were made that veterans at some of the centers were mistreated.

Commissioners in late July accepted the retirement of Martha Spear, who had served the past several years as executive director of the Veterans Affairs Department. Commissioners named McReynolds, who, who retired five years ago as administrator of the Lawton Veterans Center, as interim executive director. Gov. Mary Fallin last year replaced eight of the nine commissioners on the board that oversees the agency.

An 85-year-old veteran was scalded to death in May in a whirlpool at Claremore Veterans Center. An internal investigation identified willful negligence and abuse by one nurse and neglect by three additional employees.

The state Veterans Affairs Department's total budget for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, totals $132 million. State appropriations make up 27 percent of its budget and 21 percent, or $27 million, comes from its revolving fund, which comes from monthly maintenance charges paid by residents at the veterans centers.

McReynolds said about 52 percent of the nearly 1,400 veterans in the state's veterans centers are receiving money from nonmilitary service-connected pensions. Maximizing the federal benefits paid to veterans in the veterans centers could increase the state's allocation from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department by about $1 million a month; the state Veterans Affairs Department receives about $4.2 million a month to care for veterans.

An inquiry into each of the veterans centers last year showed that claims are not being properly developed. The only claims being filed in the centers are nonmilitary service-connected pensions. As a result, veterans in the centers are not receiving the federal benefits they are entitled to because of the underdeveloped claims, agency officials said earlier.