Governor Mary Fallin issued the statement below in response to an audit conducted by State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones. The audit was conducted at the request of Fallin. It reported numerous problems at the state's long term care facilities for veterans.
"My thanks go out to our State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, whose hard work will help to guide lawmakers as they seek to improve the services at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA). Clearly, as this report illustrates, improvements are necessary.
"The audit reveals an unacceptable lack of oversight and accountability at the ODVA, particularly at the state's seven veterans centers. These shortcomings are particularly disturbing in light of multiple accusations of abuse and neglect aimed at agency staff, some of which may have resulted in the death of Oklahoma veterans.
"In light of the deep-rooted problems at the ODVA, I am asking lawmakers to work with me to restore accountability and oversight to this agency. Good legislation has already been filed this session by Senator Frank Simpson, who has been a tireless advocate for improving services to veterans. Senate Bill 629 would require veterans' centers to be inspected by the Department of Health, ensuring that veterans living in long term care facilities are safe and receiving high quality care and services. A second bill, SB 235, would centralize the management of veterans' centers, addressing the inconsistencies in quality highlighted in the ODVA audit. I am strongly encouraging lawmakers to send those bills to my desk to be signed into law.
"Moving forward, there are other steps that I believe should be taken to improve services at the ODVA. Currently, the agency's executive director is appointed by the War Veterans Commission, an unelected body. Responding to the concerns of Oklahomans and changing the culture of the agency is difficult when no lawmaker or elected official has direct control over the appointment of the executive director. Similarly, the public has no one to hold accountable when services suffer. This lack of accountability is particularly disturbing when one considers that veterans may have actually died in these facilities due to poor treatment. Accountability should be restored by allowing the governor to directly appoint the executive director of the ODVA.
"Additionally, the makeup of the War Veterans Commission is inherently lopsided and leaves many veterans and veterans groups without a voice. Currently, all members of the Commission 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 states veterans and largely excludes younger veterans who served in recent conflicts, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. I believe that excluding the 85 percent of men and women associated with other veterans groups from serving on the Commission is unfair and counterproductive to engaging veterans.
"It is my hope these issues can be addressed in the future as part of a rethinking of how the ODVA does business and delivers its services to veterans. The men and women who have served in the military deserve the highest standard of care and services, and I will continue to work on their behalf."