, Muskogee, OK

April 18, 2013

Audit finds trouble in state’s veterans agency

Associated Press

— 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 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 care home 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 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 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.

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.