Panel hears abuse allegations at Oklahoma veterans center

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A military veteran told Oklahoma lawmakers Tuesday that he was abused by a nurse during a medical procedure at the state’s Norman Veterans Center and that staff members tried to intimidate him.

Mike Simmons spoke to members of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which is looking into allegations of abuse at veterans centers statewide. The inquiry was requested by two Democratic lawmakers following reports in The Journal Record about alleged abuse at the centers.

Mike Simmons

As his sister and advocate Susan Simmons, right, holds his prepared statement for him, Mike Simmons, left, a military veteran, tells an Oklahoma House interim study committee that he has been physically abused at Oklahoma’s Norman Veterans Center and staff members tried to intimidate him. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Simmons, among those interviewed for the newspaper’s stories, said he submitted formal grievances at Norman but that they went unreported to the state Department of Human Services.

No one from the Norman center was at the meeting, and a call to center officials for comment late Tuesday afternoon went unreturned. But officials with some of the state’s six other centers said they have policies requiring that abuse allegations be reported to DHS.

Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said he didn’t dispute Simmons’ allegation, but noted there was obvious tension between center officials and Simmons, who has been vocal about his complaints but still lives at the center. He was the only veteran who spoke during the meeting.

“I just don’t know how much we can learn from this one situation where there’s been such a turbulent relationship with this one resident,” said Wesselhoft, R-Moore.

Jerry Riley, a member of the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs, said before the meeting that the goal is to improve services and the treatment of all veterans.

“It’s not as bad as people think, we’re getting a lot of bad press,” said Riley, a Vietnam veteran who spent time in the Norman center’s rehabilitation program.

Simmons echoed some officials’ suggestions when he said the veterans centers’ annual inspections should be returned to direct DHS oversight, “with all surveys and official complaint investigations done by the DHS.” Currently, the responsibilities fall to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Richard Morrissette

Oklahoma House Rep. Richard Morrissette, right, D-Oklahoma City, asks a question during a House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

The House committee isn’t required to submit a formal report, but could submit recommendations when the Legislature reconvenes. A similar interim study is being conducted by a Senate committee.

Interim DVA Director John McReynolds said instances of intimidation by some employees of other staff has been documented and those employees were fired. But he declined to say whether Simmons’ allegations were among them, noting that he had been on the job for only a month.

The investigation was requested by Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, following the newspaper stories.

Dorman, who voted to end DHS inspections and oversight of the veterans centers in 2003, said there are obvious areas needing improvement.

“No. 1, better oversight. And No. 2, more transparency. I think any review of these centers should be online for the public to see,” Dorman said. “It’s never going to be foolproof, but it’s our responsibility to make it the best possible situation we can.”

Simmons said he believes a part of the problem is not enough staff at Norman and other veterans centers. He said the nurse who mistreated him seemed overworked.

“Despite these problems, the Norman Veterans Center is my home and I want to continue living here,” Simmons said.

Subscribe to American Homecomings News

Enter your email address (we promise we won't use it for anything other than this):

  • kc

    I myself can say i worked at the norman va for three years, i never had a problem with this man, they are understaffed and have alot of lazy non caring employees. i was a dam good nurse there, you wouldnt find a vet that didnt like me. they ran all us good hardworking employees off, and never fought for us as hard as we worked. shame on them. i just feel for those vets i mis greatly

  • Robert Osenenko

    The formula for layoff’s in the VA since 1983 has been to layoff the best workers first. Over time, this resulted in the worst element moving into leadership positions. Seriously look at the number of combat veterans who left the VA system under resignations, discharges, and EEO complaints. Congress, service organizations, faith based groups all know kc is one of a legion who have gone to the private sector. Everyone knows kc is right especially the 100,000 veterans who won’t use VA and opted out. In fact Clinton, he spoke about this disenfranchised group of heroes recently. Now how this relates to national mental health policy is fairly clear that VA is not in the game, if they are its a very small role. Wasn’t this the justification for the Excellence in Mental Health Bill? Yes it was. Lets not forget the VA once trained 90% of American doctors as opposed to currently having to be trained by foreign civilian doctors. Robert, author Family, Faith, Land and Mysticism.