On Thursday, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) was among seven state agencies to testify before the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services during the committee’s second budget and performance hearing. Sen. Frank Simpson said he was greatly disappointed by the changes made by ODVA to address problems discovered within the agency and at the state’s seven veteran centers during last year’s interim study.
ODVA Executive Director John McReynolds testified that he believed the agency’s problems stemmed from a lack of leadership so they had decided to promote a handful of individuals into leadership positions and raise administrative salaries.
“I am very disappointed in the proposal ODVA made during our Senate budget meeting. The entire focus of their presentation was on adding administrative positions and increasing the salaries of upper management,” said Simpson, R-Springer. “Nowhere in their presentation did I see anything that would have a positive impact on the care our veterans receive in our state centers. They seem to just be shuffling the deck but dealing the same old hand.”
The Senate Veterans Committee Chair was also appalled to learn that ODVA has one of the worst records among all the state agencies when it comes to employing veterans. Of ODVA’s approximately 2,100 employees, there are only 19 service officer positions that are required to be veterans. No other ODVA positions have that requirement.
“The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs should be setting the bar when it comes to employing veterans, yet they have hardly any on their staff and aren’t doing anything to reach out to them. They depend on filling positions from within the agency so veterans rarely hear about employment opportunities,” said Simpson. “What’s worse is there seems to be no plan in place within ODVA to start actively reaching out to veterans. This is an issue that must be changed immediately.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon pointed out that the unemployment rate of veterans compared to civilians is three to one. She said she knows many veterans who are certified healthcare professionals looking for employment but they just are not being made aware of the available jobs within ODVA.
All of the documents provided by ODVA to the Senate committee are available online on the new Senate Appropriations website at http://appropriations.oksenate.gov/ by selecting “Health and Human Services” and then “Department of Veterans Affairs.”