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Oversight commission approves restructuring agency to improve care for Oklahoma veterans

A restructuring plan calls for putting a service officer in each of the seven veterans centers in Oklahoma and four regional directors to provide more oversight of the state's Veterans Affairs Department.
BY MICHAEL MCNUTT mmcnutt@opubco.com Published: September 14, 2012
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McReynolds said plans are to hire the service officers from among the agency's 2,000 employees. The agency has about $200,000 in leftover funds from the 2012 fiscal year that could be used for training and other costs.

“Maybe we can't do all seven of them right now. But we can get them to split duties where they're pretty close together,” McReynolds said.

The service officer at each center would check each veteran's file to make sure the veteran is getting all benefits owed, he said.

Many veterans are not forthcoming about injuries they received during combat, he said. The service officer also would talk with spouses. “A lot of times the spouse knows more about the veteran than he does,” he said.

The restructuring plan also calls for putting four regional directors in place. McReynolds said the commission will request additional funds next year to pay for those new positions.

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.

“We have a lack of oversight in this agency,” said McReynolds, who retired four years ago as administrator of the Lawton Veterans Center. “We need to put some oversight into place.”

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 and who had worked for the agency 47 years. Commissioners named McReynolds interim executive director; applications for the executive director post are being accepted through the middle of next month.

Gov. Mary Fallin last month asked for a state audit of the agency to review the efficiency and effectiveness of management, the efficiency and effectiveness of the oversight of the operations of the agency and the reasonableness of the Veterans Affairs Department.

Fallin in May replaced eight of the nine commissioners; she said she overhauled the commission to “actively and aggressively pursue the necessary changes to improve the quality of services at these facilities and to protect the safety and well-being of our veterans.”

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

Another resident at the Claremore center claimed he was unnecessarily restrained and made to sit in his own waste for extended periods. He was removed from the center in October.


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