Members of the Oklahoma Veterans Council, a coalition of Oklahoma veterans’ organizations, met at the State Capitol with Sen. Frank Simpson Monday 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.
Although the Veterans Council opposes the bill as currently drafted, they agree that the current structure of the commission must be reformed. The Veterans Council agreed with Senator Simpson that the current structure does not adequately reflect the demographics of veterans in Oklahoma today and at times has failed to meet the needs of veterans.
SB 467 remains on general order in the Senate but no action will be taken on the bill this session. Those parties involved with the bill will, however, continue to work together.
Simpson said he was encouraged by the meeting and looked forward to further discussions.
“Today was the first of what I hope is a series of productive and meaningful discussions,” said Simpson, R-Springer. “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.”
Simpson, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, called the meeting and asked for input from all in attendance. Many good ideas and thoughts were shared during the nearly two hour session, with no idea being rejected. All ideas were discussed in length and several good points were made.
“This is the first step in a lengthy process that we hope will fix many of the current shortcomings in the existing system,” said Pete Peterson, Chairman of the Oklahoma Veterans Council. “Hopefully, the veterans’ organizations will come together and put aside the petty bickering that has prevented this process from happening in the past.”
Scott Ellis, Secretary of the OK Veterans Council said “We are very pleased to have been able to sit down face to face with Senator Simpson and have our voice heard on this important piece of legislation. We thank Senator Simpson for his willingness to talk and listen to our point of view and consider recommendations for the bill.”
During the meeting, members of the Veterans Council also voiced their support for Senate Bill 629, another of Simpson’s bills. The measure 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 several breakdowns in the system that should be protecting veterans. Many of those 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,” explained Simpson. “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.”
Senate Bill 629 unanimously passed out of the Senate last month with a vote of 44-0 and is awaiting further consideration by the House.