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March 1, 2013

Bills would help state’s veterans

NORMAN — A trio of bills were unanimously approved Thursday by the full Senate in an effort to improve services at the state’s seven veterans centers.

Sen. Frank Simpson, the measures’ author and chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, said the bills are in response to issues brought forth during the Senate Veterans Committee interim study of ODVA in the fall. 

Senate Bill 228 would create the Quality Workforce for Oklahoma’s Heroes Act. The measure would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to establish a pilot program to offer additional educational opportunities to high-performing veteran center employees in exchange for them agreeing to work for ODVA for a certain amount of time.

Another problem discovered during the interim study dealt with the centers only being inspected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which then contracts with private companies to do center inspections.

The Veterans Committee found out that even though the inspections are supposed to be unannounced, staff said they usually know when they are happening and make temporary changes to pass. 

SB 629 would require the state Department of Health to begin inspecting state veterans centers again.

Oklahoma’s veterans centers were exempted from the Nursing Home Care Act in 2003 by the legislature after supporters claimed the health department inspections were an unnecessary duplication because the centers were already subject to federal inspections.  

Finally, SB 237 would exempt ODVA and its facilities from having to pay the Nursing Facilities Quality of Care fee that the Oklahoma Health Care Authority collects from all licensed nursing facilities in the state. These measures will now be sent to the House for further consideration.

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