Some residents at Oklahoma veterans centers say they're being abused or neglected. They fear retaliation if they file a complaint.
Mike Simmons, who lives at the Norman veterans' center, told lawmakers that he's filed complaints with little result. Allegedly, he's been injured repeatedly. Simmons also told lawmakers he faced retaliation for talking to the media about those problems.
Mike Callahan, a Tulsa veteran, made similar allegations about a Claremore veterans center. That facility is also the site where a man died in May after being scalded in a whirlpool bath.
Simmons blamed the problem, in part, on chronic understaffing. John McReynolds, interim director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, seemed to tacitly confirm that allegation when he told legislators that personnel issues have long been a challenge. The lawmakers who requested the study plan to introduce legislation requiring that inspections of the state's seven veterans center be handled by a separate state agency. They also want to increase the pay for entry-level nurses and to install cameras in common areas.
The inspection and security recommendations seem sensible. Increased pay may be warranted, but we question if that alone would prevent abuse. A low-wage worker who mistreats an elderly veteran won't be a better person just because of a raise. Basic human decency isn't tied to pay scale. Better vetting of veterans' center employees is crucial.
Simmons and Callahan have leveled serious charges that must be thoroughly investigated. Dramatic improvements are clearly indicated.
McReynolds is in the process of reorganizing his agency. He's saying the right things about improving oversight and service at veterans centers. That's good, but policymakers need to remain vigilant.
If the state is going to operate these facilities, it should make sure they're well-run and provide veterans the respect and dignity they deserve.