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June 7, 2008

Norman Veterans Center under investigation

By Carol Cole-Frowe

Transcript Staff Writer

The state is launching an investigation into allegations leveled at the Norman Veterans Center by several veterans and their families.

The veterans allege there has been a lack of care in several instances because of understaffing, improper health procedures and systematic intimidation to keep them from filing grievances or complaints.

State Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City, said at a meeting at the Capitol with one of the family members and two area legislators Wednesday, Oklahoma Secretary of Veterans Affairs Norman Lamb told them an independent investigator from the state’s Merit Protection Commission will examine their complaints. The VA secretary told them the investigator would be named within the week.

According to minutes of the meeting, Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs Executive Director Phillip Driskill said the investigator will be from outside the system and will include talking to people who left employment at the center within the last six months. The legislators will be given copies of the report.

“They are going to go in and look at the whole system,” Lindley said, adding he had heard from enough veterans to know problems are not isolated.

State Rep. Wallace Collins, D-Norman, made arrangements for the meeting with Driskill; Lindley; Susan Simmons, sister of Norman Veterans Center resident Mike Simmons; and James Shearer, former brother-in-law of Mike Simmons. Lamb attended the meeting at the request of Gov. Brad Henry.

“There’s so much smoke that there’s got to be some fire there,” Collins said.

Norman Veterans Center administrator Bob Weeks was in attendance, but was asked to leave the meeting to allow the family member to air her grievances. Weeks has been in charge for about three years of the 300-bed Norman Veterans Center, which remains at capacity often with a waiting list.

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