A trio of bills were unanimously approved Thursday by the full Senate in an effort to improve services at the state’s seven veterans centers. Sen. Frank Simpson, the measures’ author and chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, said the bills are in response to issues brought forth during the Senate Veterans Committee interim study of ODVA this fall.
Senate Bill 228 would create the Quality Workforce for Oklahoma’s Heroes Act. The measure would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) to establish a pilot program to offer additional educational opportunities to high performing veteran center employees in exchange for them agreeing to work for ODVA for a certain amount of time.
“Our state veterans centers have a high turnover rate and struggle to keep employee, which has a negative impact on patient care,” said Simpson, R-Springer. “This pilot program is an effort to keep good employees by offering them a chance for promotion through increased education and training. We also think this will help more employees want to make a career with ODVA.”
Another problem discovered during the interim study dealt with the centers only being inspected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which then contracts with private companies to do the center inspections. The Veterans Committee found out that even though the inspections are supposed to be unannounced, staff testified that they usually know when they are happening and make necessary temporary changes in order to pass.
SB 629 would require the state Department of Health to begin inspecting state veterans centers again. Oklahoma’s veterans centers were exempted from the Nursing Home Care Act in 2003 by the Legislature after supporters claimed the health department inspections were an unnecessary duplication because the centers were already subject to federal inspections.
“Today was a great day for veterans in Oklahoma. The Senate spoke with a unified voice and said we care for those who have served our nation. This bill will provide the oversight and accountability that has been missing for far too long. The residents of the centers will now have their rights and protections restored and the families of those veterans will have the peace of mind of knowing their loved one is being cared for.”
Finally, SB 237 would exempt ODVA and its facilities from having to pay the Nursing Facilities Quality of Care fee that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority collects from all licensed nursing facilities in the state.
These measures will now be sent to the House for further consideration.