Oklahoma Legislature Expected to Review Reforms for Veterans Center

Article excerpt

A package of legislative reforms targeting the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and its seven long-term care facilities was heard by a House conference committee Thursday.

The bill is expected to go to the House Calendar Committee early next week, said Rep. Tommy Hardin, R-Madill and House author of the bill.

Senate Bill 629 would place the state's seven long-term veterans care centers back under state oversight by the Oklahoma Department of Health. Until the Legislature changed the law in 2003, Oklahoma veterans centers were inspected by the state Health Department and the federal Veterans Affairs Department.

The bill, which has bounced back and forth between the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate throughout the 2013 session, would require unannounced inspections of the veterans centers and would authorize center personnel to work with local law enforcement authorities to investigate cases of abuse and neglect at veterans centers. The bill also requires complaint investigations to be unannounced.

The bill was initially opposed by several veterans groups and the ODVA, but that opposition has faded. Hardin said the bill was a substantial reform package.

"This is a pretty significant piece of legislation," Hardin said during the meeting. "We don't want it to get caught up in that big meat grinder of the last few days."

Hardin said the bill needed six members of the conference committee to pass out of the committee. …