Waste Watch: Spending concerns at state-run veterans facility

Chairs, couches and office equipment tossed out and left to Mother Nature's wrath by the state agency charged with taking care of our veterans. That decision came as the same veterans center spent tens-of-thousands of tax dollars purchasing big ticket items that raised concerns among some of the veterans.

"There was a 50-yard long pile of furniture equipment, some of which was still serviceable that was just dumped out on the driveway behind maintenance," said Mike Simmons, a disabled veteran who lives at the Norman Veterans Center. Simmons has very-limited mobility due to MS, but his mind is sharp and he keeps track of state spending at the center while advocating for higher pay for the caregivers.

"It's just a colossal waste of money," Simmons said of the furniture left out in the spring and summer rains. Simmons says there is a growing concern about other purchases made by the Norman center. "When they first put them in the cafeteria here, the tables were too short for people in power chairs and some wheelchairs to get under."

Added to those concerns are big ticket items like an $8,000 ATV, which residents describe as a 'rolling egg', that doesn't carry veterans around. The center also spent $24,000 on a forklift that veterans say can't be used in the warehouse because it creates diesel fumes. The center also purchased a "cherry-picker," which dwarfed the previous questionable purchases.

"It does present problems for the veterans out here, our veterans council we have has really had to stand up and take a stance on a lot of these items," Simmons said.

"All the equipment you're referring to came into being prior to my arrival here," said Major General Myles Deering, the new director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, or ODVA. Deering said the expenses highlight the need for reforms to purchasing decisions.

"We're looking at our purchase practices here at Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that we're as efficient as we can be and that we're using and purposing money and equipment for the right purpose," Deering told Fox 25. Deering said centralizing purchase could make sure the right equipment gets to the right centers and save money in the process.

As for the pile of furniture left out in the elements, Deering said that was not appropriate. "It [the used equipment] accumulated over time and in all honesty that's shame on us we didn't probably do a good job at being timely in getting the stuff to the state warehouses where we turn it in at the surplus warehouse." Surplus property is routinely sold back to the public, though the ODVA would not have seen any of the proceeds from such an auction. Still, Deering said there were usable items that should have been transferred and not left outside.

Deering says he is working to make changes at the ODVA, but those changes will take time. He said he hopes to work with the veterans in the centers to address their concerns and work to make improvements to the agency so it can help more veterans as they leave military service.

"I think as a whole we're making progress sometimes progress is slow, sometimes it's immediate, but overall it's just focusing on the things we need to focus on to get the job done."

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