May Editorial Winner

Time for a change at the ODVA

M. SCOTT CARTER, The Journal Record

The time has come to change the leadership at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more than a year, this newspaper has reviewed documents, interviewed residents and their family members, and examined mountains of federal reports and state court records that all show the same thing: Veterans are being harmed at several state veterans centers.
Documents show that many veterans have been assaulted, abused, drugged and in some cases died prematurely because of poor medical practices at state veterans centers.
"I know of at least three veterans that were killed at our center because of negligent care," Dr. Pamela Hiti, the Norman center's former medical director, told The Journal Record, a statement that should have set off alarm bells at the ODVA. A responsible leader would have rushed to acknowledge and correct the problems.
She didn't.
Instead, the agency's executive director, Martha Spear, was flippant, pointing out that she works for the commission, not state Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon. Rather than looking into the problems, she dismissed their significance, saying the centers were compliant with federal standards.
The callousness was surprising. Sadly, new revelations that the problems continue were not. The culture of any organization is attributable to the person atop the pyramid, and that hasn't yet changed.
Jay Minter, an 85-year-old World War II veteran, died May 2 in what police have called a suspicious death. Minter had lived at the Claremore Veterans Center since 2004.
Minter's death is the latest in a long line of questionable deaths. And yet, even with the reports now public and the focus of the governor, the Legislature and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs squarely on the ODVA, the director remains unscathed.
This week, Gov. Mary Fallin and Aragon took the first major steps toward cleaning up the mess by replacing eight of the nine members of the War Veterans Commission. Charged with protecting veterans and taking an active role in managing the ODVA, Fallin's new commissioners face big challenges.
We applaud the governor's swift work, as well as the strong stance of the secretary of veterans affairs and the Legislature.
The new commissioners have a great deal of work to do. Their first act should be to acknowledge that they do indeed employ the executive director - and find a new one.