Audit of Oklahoma veterans agency uncovers problems

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs lacks proper supervision and oversight of its seven facilities across the state, its workers are chronically underpaid and its governing board has done a poor job managing the agency, according to a state audit released Wednesday.

The 59-page audit, which involved a five-month review of the agency’s operations, was requested by Gov. Mary Fallin in August after the scalding death of a veteran at a facility in Claremore and other allegations of patient abuse and neglect.

“The agency relies on the center administrators to operate the veterans’ centers, but lacks integrated supervision and oversight necessary to ensure the centers have positive working environments and sufficient resources to provide that excellent quality care to the residents,” the audit states. “This places the veterans center residents’ well-being at risk.”

About 1,400 war veterans live at seven veterans’ centers located in Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Lawton, Norman, Sulphur and Talihina. The agency employs about 2,000 state workers, said agency spokesman Shane Faulkner.

Among the problem areas identified in the report are inconsistent training, low wages and some administrators’ disregard for staff input.

“They’ve got to figure out ways to retain people longer, and investigations should be more centralized and conducted by someone outside the facility,” Jones said. “It’s kind of like the facility directors run their own centers.

“We think they should set up standard operating procedures for all the centers instead of giving the individual directors such a long leash.”

The agency said in a statement that it already has taken steps to comply with many of the audit’s recommendations, including the appointment of a deputy director to oversee daily operations and a revamping of the War Veterans Commission that oversees the agency.

“ODVA concurs with the findings in the audit and has implemented many changes that fall in line with recommendations made in the report,” the agency said.

Two bills pending in the Legislature this session would address some of the problems, including a measure that would require the veterans’ centers to be regularly inspected by the Department of Health, and another that would centralize the management of the centers.

“I am strongly encouraging lawmakers to send those bills to my desk to be signed into law,” Fallin said in a statement.

Fallin also suggested that the agency director be appointed by the governor, instead of the commission, to give the public more accountability.

“This lack of accountability is particularly disturbing when one considers that veterans may have actually died in these facilities due to poor treatment,” Fallin said.

Another problem cited by both Jones and Fallin is that the pool of potential members of the War Veterans Commission is limited because they must be chosen from a list supplied by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans.

“While I support the mission of each one of these organizations and applaud their good work, their combined membership represents only 15 percent of the state’s veterans and largely excludes younger veterans who served in recent conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan,” Fallin said.

 

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