A Senate panel on Tuesday began looking into the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs after high-profile reports of neglect, abuse and death.
The Senate Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs began the interim study at the request of Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, its co-chairman and a Navy veteran.
Simpson said the study will evaluate the structure and operation of the central office, the duties and responsibilities of the Veterans Affairs secretary and the War Veterans Commission, which hires and fires the agency’s executive director, staffing, pay and training at the state’s seven veterans centers.
“Today is a starting point,” Simpson said.
Gov. Mary Fallin recently appointed new members to the commission after reports of abuse and neglect.
Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Rita Aragon, Secretary for Veterans Affairs, said her job is to serve as a liaison between the governor and the agency and commission. She has no staff and no budget, she said.
Under past commissioners and administration, she was closed out from participating.
She was not allowed to participate in executive sessions of the Commission, where sensitive issues were discussed, she said.
That created a barrier between the agency and the governor’s office, she said. As a result, she was not able to inform the governor, who appoints its members, about what needed to be fixed, she said.