The Senate approved a trio of veterans bills Tuesday afternoon addressing various needs of Oklahoma’s military men and women. Navy veteran and Chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, is the author of the measures.
Senate Bill 544 authorizes the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) to work with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in relocating the Talihina Veterans Center following the deaths of two residents in the last five months.
“The Talihina Veterans Center has too many problems to name but among the worst is the age of the crumbling nearly 100-year-old building, the inconvenient location, continual staff shortages, unethical nepotism and lack of proper training,” said Simpson. “Regardless of the issues, two lives have been tragically and senselessly lost at this center in recent months. It’s obvious that our veterans are no longer able to receive the high quality of care that they deserve so it’s imperative that we move the facility as soon as possible.”
SB 543 authorizes the ODVA to establish a State Veterans’ Cemetery System consisting of one or more cemeteries to serve Oklahoma veterans and their eligible spouses and dependents. The agency would establish a fee for the interment of eligible spouses and dependents. The ODVA would seek private, state and federal funding for the establishment, construction, operation and maintenance of the cemetery system as well as accept donations of real or personal property.
This would be the state’s first veteran cemetery operated by the ODVA. There is currently one state-owned cemetery, which is located in Oklahoma City and operated by the Oklahoma Military Department.
“Our veterans deserve a dignified and stately final resting place to honor their sacrifice and service to our nation,” said Simpson.
SB 232 sunsets the five-member State Accrediting Agency and consolidates it with the ODVA. There are currently 31 other states that have their accrediting or accountability agency in their veterans department.
“This will help Oklahoma capture more federal education funds for our veterans while also providing more oversight of this agency,” explained Simpson.
Simpson said that Texas ranks ninth nationally for the capture of federal education funds for veterans while Colorado ranks sixth and Oklahoma ranks 33rd. Currently, Oklahoma is only able to capture 46 cents of every dollar of federal education funds for veterans while Texas captures 88 cents and Colorado is able to capture 91 cents.
The three bills now go to the House for further consideration.