This fall, the Senate Veterans Committee will be conducting three interim studies on issues affecting Oklahoma’s veterans. The studies were requested by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Frank Simpson, who has dedicated his time in the legislature to improving state services for veterans.
“I hope that through these studies we can continue to help the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs and the War Veterans Commission be more responsive to the needs of our veterans and also help develop a more professional and qualified workforce within our state’s veterans centers,” said Simpson, R-Springer.
The first study, requested by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA), will look at the possibility of expanding eligibility for entry into the state’s seven veterans centers to include all veterans not just select groups. Currently only those veterans who have served during specified periods are eligible for admission to the centers, leaving an entire generation of veterans with no access to the centers. The committee would also study the impact such a change would have on the centers.
The next study will evaluate the qualifications, structure and duties of the War Veterans Commission, which is the governing body of the ODVA. Statute currently limits membership to three service organizations including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans. Together these organizations represent less than 15 percent of the state’s 387,000 veterans. The study will look at possibly expanding the pool of potential candidates for commissioner positions by looking outside the three service organizations. Also to be considered will be requiring enhanced skill sets, including higher educational and professional qualifications, for board members. The goal of this study is to provide a more highly-qualified commission that better represents the demographics of the veteran population in Oklahoma.
The final study will look at direct care staffing at the veterans centers. Currently, employment turnover at the centers is nearly 70 percent. The Office of Personnel Management has estimated that employee turnover at the state’s veterans centers costs taxpayers approximately $4.4 million per year in lost productivity and excessive training. This study will evaluate all aspects of direct care staff employment. Some of the areas that will be examined are pay level, quality of training, work hours and background checks. The goal of the study is to reduce turnover and provide a working environment that is conducive to retention and professional growth.
“Great strides have been made in the last couple of years to improve services to our veterans but more must be done. I’m hopeful that we can create several pieces of legislation through the insight gained in these studies and help get our veterans the services they need and deserve,” said Simpson.