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Audit Reveals ‘Culture Of Fear And Intimidation’ At The VA

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Darren D. Heusel/Tinker Airforce Base/
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Col. Stephanie Wilson, 72nd Air Base Wing and installation commander, talks with Bob Hedgecoke, 93, of Guthrie, during a sendoff reception for Honor Flight veterans Sept. 15, 2015 at Rose State College.

State Auditor Gary Jones released a special audit of the Dept of Veterans affairs Wednesday. The report details “a culture of fear and intimidation” stemming from the agency’s top management that ultimately worsens care for veterans.

“We were amazed at how fearful the employees were to even discuss items with us,” Jones said. “In some cases they even asked to meet somewhere besides their work center because they felt like they were being watched.”

Jones says it the third time he’s audited the agency in five years. As he and his team interviewed employees, they voiced concerns about the medical staffing at VA facilities and the fact that the directors of the facilities were excluded from board meetings, which became less frequent.

“They feel like they can’t freely express their concerns and through our audit actually expressed the fact that it provided a poorer level of healthcare.

The report reads:

Responses to our employee surveys and interview questions echoed one of the initial questions driving this audit with concerns that the level of care provided to residents of the state veterans centers is declining. In recent years, laboratory services at the centers have been outsourced, with reports that other services are soon to follow, as staffing shortages and turnover frustrate center employees. Access to medical providers is reportedly being restricted, and specialty diets have been limited while center menus were standardized. It is clear the historical level of in-house care at the centers is declining. However, as the veterans centers are licensed as long-term care facilities, these changes do not appear to violate applicable regulations. Rather, they illustrate staff’s concerns that the centers are being turned into nursing homes, that management is occupied with raising profits while meeting minimal regulatory requirements, and that central office does not share their respect and admiration for the residents in their care. These changes also contradict ODVA’s mission of “providing to the Veterans residing in the state of Oklahoma the highest quality support and care available anywhere in the Nation."

Jones says it’s important for the VA’s commissioners to resume control over the department’s policies.

“The policies and procedures are supposed to be developed by the commissioners and then administered by the executive director,” said Jones. “But the appearance is and what we found is that a lot of the decisions are being made by the executive director.”

In response to the audit, the Department of Veterans Affairs released the following statement:

“We are presently reviewing the State Auditor’s report. Where matters of significance have been raised, we look forward to taking the appropriate corrective action.”

 

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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