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October 3, 2012

Panel hears allegations at VA center

OKLAHOMA CITY — A military veteran told Oklahoma lawmakers Tuesday that he was abused by a nurse during a medical procedure at the state’s Norman Veterans Center and that staff members tried to intimidate him.

Mike Simmons spoke to members of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which is looking into allegations of abuse at veterans centers statewide. The inquiry was requested by two Democratic lawmakers following reports in The Journal Record about alleged abuse at the centers.
Simmons, among those interviewed for the newspaper’s stories, said he submitted formal grievances at Norman but that they went unreported to the state Department of Human Services.
No one from the Norman center was at the meeting, and a call to center officials for comment late Tuesday afternoon went unreturned. But officials with some of the state’s six other centers said they have policies requiring that abuse allegations be reported to DHS.
Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Wesselhoft said he didn’t dispute Simmons’ allegation, but noted there was obvious tension between center officials and Simmons, who has been vocal about his complaints but still lives at the center. He was the only veteran who spoke during the meeting.
“I just don’t know how much we can learn from this one situation where there’s been such a turbulent relationship with this one resident,” said Wesselhoft, R-Moore.
Jerry Riley, a member of the Oklahoma War Veterans Commission that oversees the Department of Veterans Affairs, said before the meeting that the goal is to improve services and the treatment of all veterans.
“It’s not as bad as people think, we’re getting a lot of bad press,” said Riley, a Vietnam veteran who spent time in the Norman center’s rehabilitation program.
Simmons echoed some officials’ suggestions when he said the veterans centers’ annual inspections should be returned to direct DHS oversight, “with all surveys and official complaint investigations done by the DHS.” Currently, the responsibilities fall to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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