OK Veterans Affairs spending questioned

OKLAHOMA CITY – Although the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has had millions of dollars cut from its state appropriations in the last few years, has reduced services and removed critical-care equipment at its seven state veterans centers, the agency is spending $3 million to relocate, remodel and refurnish its headquarters, records show. 

State Rep. Brian Renegar has been critical of the ODVA and its leadership over its plans to close the state veterans’ center at Talihina and its service cutbacks, such as removal of electrocardiogram (EKG) machines at the seven state veterans’ centers.

Just last month the ODVA issued a statement claiming that incorrect interpretation of EKG readings could delay care with life-threatening consequences; the agency assumes “a massive liability if these results are misinterpreted.” Yet the agency has owned and operated the EKG machines for years, Renegar said. “What’s different now?”

The ODVA has reduced the number of doctors at the state’s veterans’ centers, and is limiting use of blood chemistry machines that are employed to gauge what fluids to give a veteran.

The ODVA plans to close all labs at the state veterans’ centers, so the agency is using Diagnostic Laboratory of Oklahoma (DLO) to perform its labor work. “The ODVA’s lab machines are already paid for, so we are going from essentially a free test to paying for a private lab test, and from 30 minutes to 24 hours for test results,” Renegar said. Outsourcing lab work will delay the diagnosis, which will delay treatments for veterans, the six-term lawmaker said.

ODVA officials said that their reductions in personnel and services could be reversed if its appropriations from the Legislature were restored. “ODVA Director Myles Deering has said that if the Legislature would give back the $6.7 million” it has diverted from the agency’s appropriations and revolving funds over the last three years, “he would put back into use the ‘crash carts’ with the EKG machines at our seven veterans centers,” said Renegar.

“Well, if the ODVA is in such a money crunch, why are they spending the veterans’ money on relocating, remodeling and refurbishing the ODVA headquarters to the tune of $3,031,124?” the McAlester Democrat wondered.

Fourteen months ago the ODVA solicited bids on interior renovations to a building at 2132 NE 36th Street in Oklahoma City, at an estimated cost of $2.1 million, documents show. [solicitation attached] In addition, last August the ODVA solicited bids on exterior paving work, utilities and landscaping at the new site, at an estimated cost of $534,012, records show. [solicitation attached]

As recently as May 1 a purchase order was submitted for $345,106 to buy new office furniture from an Indiana company for the new ODVA headquarters and on Feb. 22 a $15,806 purchase order was issued for “building renovation and repair, commercial and office” for the ODVA.

“This is where all of the money is going from the reduction in doctors and staff at our veterans’ centers,” Renegar said.

“Incidentally,” Renegar continued, “the ODVA spent $4,999 with a New York City company, Critical Mention Inc., for “media searches for ODVA name across all media platforms,” a May 4 purchase order shows. “Now THAT is really spending veterans’ money wisely,” Renegar quipped.

Also, Deering and ODVA Clinical Compliance Director Tina Williams have spent $194,622 on a software program called Point Click Care, records show.

That software was purchased last year and still has not been fully integrated into the DLO’s computer system, Renegar said. Point Click Care is software designed for nursing homes. “It does not have codes for the medical amenities that veterans’ centers provide at a higher level of care,” Renegar contends.

ODVA Director Deering received a $15,000 raise on Feb. 10; Deputy Executive Director Doug Elliott received a $4,000 raise last Oct. 1; and RN Tina Williams received a raise from $96,000 to $102,720 per year last Oct. 1, Renegar reported.

“All of those raises came after the ODVA experienced appropriation reductions of $6.7 million over the last three years” – from $36 million in Fiscal Year 2015 to $31 million in Fiscal Year 2017, plus $1.7 million siphoned from the agency’s revolving fund – “and at a time when the Legislature was coping with consecutive budget shortfalls of $611 million, $1.3 billion and now $1 billion,” Renegar emphasized Monday.