From tornadoes to Tuesday's death of a board member Jerry Riley, the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission has faced one crisis after another over the past six weeks.
Other major crises have included:
A damaged switch that threatened to force the evacuation of 200 residents from the commission's Lawton institution for disabled war veterans.
Staff turmoil at the Claremore Veterans Center.
Controversy over a law scheduled to go into effect Nov. 1 that will ban smoking by residents in the state's seven institutions for disabled war veterans.
Hundreds of war veterans and their families were in the paths of May tornadoes that tore through Moore, south Oklahoma City, El Reno, Carney and other Oklahoma communities.
Employees of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs paired with veterans' service organizations to quickly begin distributing state emergency relief checks to war veterans and surviving spouses whose property sustained damage.
State checks totaling nearly $425,000 were handed out within weeks, with most qualifying individuals receiving the maximum $1,000, officials said. Veterans' service organizations passed out additional checks from donated funds to veterans who did not qualify for the state emergency funds.
Relief workers faced their own hazards.
Danny Oliver, state adjutant for the Disabled American Veterans, said he and others were in his organization's trailer in the Moore Wal-Mart parking lot, working to assist victims of the May 19 and 20 tornadoes, when another tornado came through May 31 and briefly lifted the trailer off the ground.
Oliver said they had been trying to watch the weather, but “I think we decided right then we didn't need to watch the weather anymore.”
They headed for a tornado shelter. In addition to handing out checks, the veterans' organizations did things like guard veterans' damaged homes while they went to file claims and provide transportation, he said.
Board member Riley, 79, of Bristow, was an active participant in the War Veterans Commission's June 21 meeting, but passed away four days later.
During the June 21 meeting, commissioners were briefed on a multitude of challenges facing the state agency they govern.
Terry Wilkerson, administrator of the Lawton Veterans Center, said a storm that passed through Lawton on June 16 damaged a switch that is supposed to automatically transfer power back and forth between the center's main power source and a backup generator.
The switch is supposed to transfer power to the generator when an outage occurs and transfer power back to the normal power source when power is restored, he said. Water got in the system and it wouldn't switch back from the generator to normal power, he said.
Rooms got a little warm, more than 200 fans were deployed, health officials were called out and plans were discussed to evacuate, if necessary, Wilkerson said.
However, the center never totally lost power and electricians were able to wire around the switch and restore normal power four days later, providing at least a temporary solution, he said.
The Claremore Veterans Center also has had its problems.
A physician's assistant was charged with second-degree murder and caretaker abuse after two residents died there last year — one after being scalded in a whirlpool and the other after not being taken to a hospital for several hours after having a stroke.
Tim Potteiger took over as administrator at the Claremore Veterans Center about six months ago and told commissioners some staff members are upset by changes he has made to try to instill accountability and improve things for the veteran residents.
“We have probably four RNs (registered nurses) right now on family leave because they're not liking the changes that we're doing,” he said. “But we're going to win in the end. We've got a good core there.”
Commissioner Curtis “Doc” Bohlman, who is leaving the commission, used his parting speech to take a shot at the decision to ban smoking in the veterans' centers.
“I would vote against taking away the smokes a hundred more times if I could,” Bohlman said.
The centers have adequate ventilation, smoking rooms and outdoor smoking areas so that the smoke poses no threat to nonsmokers, he said.
Executive Director John McReynolds said there are 250 to 260 smokers in the centers.
“We're pursuing smoking cessation classes aggressively at the centers,” he said.