Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hearings to Revisit Hearings to Revisit Oklahoma War Veterans Commission Structure, Rolestructure, Role

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Hearings to Revisit Hearings to Revisit Oklahoma War Veterans Commission Structure, Rolestructure, Role

Article excerpt

Stalled in their efforts to overhaul the operation and makeup of the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission, the state Senate Veterans Committee will try again starting with an interim hearing next month.

The hearing, at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, in 419C at the state Capitol, will examine the qualifications, structure and duties of the WVC and its role as the governing body of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. Two other hearings will follow in October.

State law allows only three service organizations - the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans - to propose candidates for the nine-member commission. The governor, with approval of the state Senate, must choose commissioners from that pool of candidates.

But those organizations, state Sen. Frank Simpson said, represent fewer than 15 percent of Oklahoma's 387,000 veterans.

"We've had several complaints that the current makeup of the commission doesn't represent all veterans," Simpson, R-Springer, said. "We hope to change that."

The War Veterans Commission came under fire in 2012 after The Journal Record published stories that showed a pattern of abuse, neglect, assault and premature deaths at several of the centers - which provide long-term nursing care for state veterans. During the final weeks of the 2012 legislative session, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin replaced eight of the commission's nine members, saying it was time for new leadership in the veteran's system.

Fallin has also called for legislation that would remove the commission as a constitutional board and reduce its role to advisory status. Last year a bill authored by Simpson, the chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, would have reduced the WVC's authority and given the governor more say in the operation of the ODVA. However, that measure was opposed by veterans groups and didn't clear the Legislature.

Simpson said his committee would again look at the makeup and operation of the War Veterans Commission and examine going outside the three veteran's service organizations to expand the pool of commissioner candidates.

"Younger veterans just aren't the joiners that older veterans are," Simpson said Thursday. …

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