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Veterans Commission Stays Course Following Scathing Audit

Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs

The Oklahoma Veterans Commission metTuesday to review a recent audit alleging a culture of “fear and intimidation” within the agency.

“The whole scope of this meeting was to address the audit,” said commission spokesperson Shane Faulkner. “Obviously, the biggest question is, should the director remain the director?”  

Ultimately the answer was yes. The Commission unanimously voted not to fire Executive Director Doug Elliot, who oversees the state’s seven long-term care facilities and five claims offices.

Commissioners indicated that while some of Elliot’s decisions are unpopular, he is simply carrying out a 2015 directive from Gov. Mary Fallin asking the agency to expand beyond current services and address issues like substance abuse and unemployment in the midst of a budget crisis. This followed several staff shake-ups after reported rape, abuse, neglect and premature deaths at veterans centers. The audit claims ODVA’s “toxic” work environment is worsening care.

State Auditor Gary Jones sat in the back of the room while commissioners combed through his 75-page audit published in August. Jones said Elliot questioned the audit’s veracity.

“His comment was that this [the audit] was based on anonymous surveys from ex- employees, and I said ‘No, the majority of the audit is based on actual interviews from actual employees,” recounted Jones.

Jones said he used an anonymous survey to substantiate interviews, and the responses were consistent. The audit concluded, “Employees across the state actively fear for their jobs and report experiencing dictatorial and aggressive leadership from the central office.”

Elliot denies that claim, something Faulkner reiterated in an interview following the meeting.

“We appreciate some of the recommendations that were that were filed in the audit, including the need for better communication within the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Faulkner said. “As for the other findings about a toxic environment and culture of fear and intimidation? Yeah we categorically deny those claims.”

Jones isn’t the only one insisting the audit’s findings are true. The Oklahoman reported 40 people gathered outside VA headquarters protesting Elliot’s leadership. One, a woman from Norman named Betty Rogers, held a sign that read “ODVA is a Dictatorship.”

Jones offered to set up a meeting with ODVA staff to review the audit’s supporting documentation. Faulkner did not say whether the meeting would take place.

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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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