By Mick Hinton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — State Sen. Frank Simpson called Wednesday for stepped-up scrutiny of Oklahoma’s veterans centers after learning that seven workers at the Norman Veterans Center have been fired.
The workers allegedly took money from the estate of veteran resident Bill Marshall, who died in 2010.
It is believed that Marshall’s estate was worth in excess of $200,000.
Meanwhile, termination notices received by The Transcript through an Open Records request reveal the names of the seven employees fired after they all “received money from the patient’s estate,” according to the notices provided.
Those fired were Rose Ballinger, Glen Williams, Darold Lairson, Sue Pace, Tracy Wilkinson, Janice Mooneyham and Ruth Johnson.
Bollinger’s notice disclosed that she had been named as executor of his estate and continues to serve in that capacity.
Simpson, R-Ardmore, said Wednesday that Korean War veteran Marshall “must have been a kind-hearted man.”
“It is sad. It is against the law,” the senator said.
Shane Faulkner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, said Tuesday, “I can confirm the seven individuals at issue were terminated from employment with the ODVA, effective Sept. 9.”
Faulkner said the agency is prohibited by law from revealing the names of those seven in connection with this case. However, their letters of termination are public record.
Sen. Simpson pointed to a new law passed by the Legislature, stating that someone giving care to nursing home residents could not accept more than $1 from a patient.
Norman center resident Mike Simmons said he was well-acquainted with Marshall. He said a veterans center staff member had been named executor of Marshall’s estate and also had paid his bills.
“She knew how much money was in his bank account,” Simmons said.
Simpson is planning Senate committee meetings this fall so lawmakers can delve into the myriad of problems at the centers. Meetings are scheduled for Oct. 22 and Nov. 12 at the state Capitol.
Simmons said lawmakers need to scrutinize staffing at the seven veterans centers in Oklahoma, looking at increasing pay while providing better training for employees.
Simpson retired as a Navy chief warrant officer in 1988 after serving for 26 years.
The senator said there should be more military veterans holding positions at the centers.
“One problem I have is there are too many internal promotions,” he said. There need to be “some fresh eyes” among the staff, he said.
He also questioned membership on the state War Veterans Commission, which oversees the centers, noting that several military service organizations are excluded from representation.
Meanwhile, the ODVA received information last year about alleged exploitation of Marshall and launched an internal investigation.
Criminal charges could be filed against the workers.
Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn said he is aware of the investigation, but the ODVA hasn’t presented any information to the DA.
“There might be something there, but it is too early to tell,” Mashburn said.