Members of the Oklahoma Veterans Council, a coalition of Oklahoma veteran's organizations met with Sen. Frank Simpson (R-Ardmore) to discuss Senate Bill 467. The measure would abolish the War Veterans Commission, which is the governing body of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
The council opposes the bill as currently drafted but agrees the current structure of the commission must be reformed. The bill remains on general order in the Senate but no action will be taken during this legislative session. Parties involved with the bill will continue to work together to find the solutions to make sure veterans are property cared for. Simpson called for the meeting, and asked for input from the council.
"Today was the first of what I hope is a series of productive and meaningful discussions," Simpson said. "I really think that today's meeting with representatives from the Oklahoma Veterans Council was the beginning of a dialogue on how we can improve services to the veterans of Oklahoma. We came together as veterans and are committed to pursuing meaningful reforms that will ensure that every veteran's voice is heard."
Also discussed in the meeting was SB 629, which would provide Oklahoma Department of Health oversight over the seven State Veterans Centers. Inspections by the Department of Health were discontinued in 2003. A lengthy study of ODVA during the summer of 2012 discovered many breakdowns in the system that should be protecting veterans. Many of the problems were attributed to a lack of outside oversight.
"When legislation was passed in 2003 removing health department oversight of our veterans centers, there were some unintended consequences," Simpson said. "In 2003, our veterans in these centers lost several rights and protections. Our goal is to restore those rights and protections to those who served our nation."
The bill was passed out of the senate in February with a 44-0 vote and will be considered in the House of Representatives.
Members of the veteran's council were encouraged by the meeting and expressed hopes problems within the system will be corrected.
"This is the first step in a lengthy process that we hope will fix many shortcomings in the existing system," Pete Peterson, OVC Chairman, said. "Hopefully the veterans organizations will come together and put aside the petty bickering that has prevented this process from happening in the past."