Oklahoma’s veterans centers could face increased oversight
Filed by Ben Allen in Feature.
October 25, 2012
After a series of reports by the Journal Record exposed problems of abuse and neglect at the state’s veterans centers, elected officials started to pay attention to the issues.
M. Scott Carter first broke the story, and I talked with him Wednesday.
Click above for the full conversation. Below, some of the highlights.
Was this widespread?
“There have been incidents of abuse and neglect at all of them at some time or another. The big problem centers were the ones such as Ardmore and Norman and Claremore, and to a lesser extent, Lawton….it’s a systemwide problem.”
Did state legislators fully consider consequences of ending unannounced expectations in 2003?
“No, I don’t think they did. I think they thought the federal inspections would be sufficient. The former head of the ODVA at the time, a guy by the name of Phil Driskill had been in the agency for several years and was very skilled at lobbying the Legislature. And he and Roy Griffin, the head of the Talihina Veterans Center, they went door to door buttonholing these guys telling them this was a way to save money, and we don’t need all this.”
Inspections only cost $150,000 a year for the state?
“That was what the Health Department guy said at the time Wednesday. He said that would be the estimated cost. Now [Mark Newman] said that was a conservative estimate…the most recent abuse and neglect case the state settled was for the maximum amount allowed under the Tort Claim Act which was $175,000. So they could spend $150 up front and prevent settlements, and prevent these problems, or make a big step towards preventing these problems, instead of paying them out in legal fees.”
Could inspections have stopped abuse?
“State inspections would be surprise inspections…it’s a much more accurate picture of what’s going on and how the staffing levels are, and the training level of staff, and how residents are being treated and cared for.”
Who gets blame?
“There’s plenty of blame to go around. The Department of Veterans Affairs has been managed like, it was managed by its former executive directors as a little fiefdom, where the big deal was we take care of our own, if there’s a problem, it doesn’t become public…and the War Veterans Commission was pretty much a rubber stamp for whatever the administrative offices wanted to do.
“But it’s not the only place where blame lies. Blame also lies a lot with the Legislature, because the Legislature…really didn’t look into the function and management of the ODVA and then they exempted them from state inspections in 2003, which set them up to fail big time.”
How will legislators fix the situation?
“I talked to state Senator Kim David of Porter…one of the first things they’re going to do is place the veterans centers and the veterans system back under some type of state inspection. It may not be purely the Health Department, but it will be an outside agency that comes in and does a review, an unannounced examination of each long term care facility and how its functioning.”
“I also would not be surprised to see some type of free standing, almost like an Inspector General’s office that has criminal investigators in it.”