Watchdog: Accountability

Hundreds of Oklahomans are on waiting list for veterans centers residency

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Nearly 700 names are on waiting lists to become residents at one of the seven veterans centers run and administered by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, though agency officials say the situation isn’t as dire as it may seem.

The state agency maintains two separate waiting lists — one for veterans who need a place to live immediately and another for those who aren’t necessarily in a hurry to move in but would like to at some point.

The more urgent waiting list — dubbed “ASAP” in agency records — has 163 names on it. The other list, referred to as the “Future” waiting list, has 514 veterans on it.

In Oklahoma, there are state-run veterans centers in Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Lawton, Norman, Sulphur and Talihina. The total capacity of these centers is 1,423.

About 70 percent of the veterans on the waiting lists are hoping to get into the centers in Lawton and Norman, records show. The Claremore Veterans Center, which is among the agency’s largest and only a short drive from Tulsa, has only 21 names on its waiting lists.

Shane Faulkner, spokesman for ODVA and a veteran of the U.S. Navy, said most of those waiting for a slot at one of the state-run veterans centers are not desperate for a place to live.

He said most of them are nearing the end of their lives, in most cases, “and they want to be taken care of at that point in their lives, and maybe their families just can’t do that for them.”

“Right now, World War II vets are the No. 1 priority, obviously, they are the oldest in most cases,” Faulkner said during an interview on Thursday.

“But anybody, somebody like me, for instance, who’s not anywhere close to that stage in life, can fill out their application, turn it in and boom, they’re on the list.”

A new law, signed recently by Gov. Mary Fallin, will allow any honorably discharged veteran to apply to become a resident of one of the seven state-run centers. The new law also will allow so called peacetime veterans to be eligible for other benefits once reserved solely for those who served during wartime.

Peacetime veterans

Unlike most facilities designed to house and care for humans, the veterans centers run by the state could one day be confronted with an undercrowding problem.

“Right, with the waiting lists, you don’t see any problems with us being able to fill our beds,” Faulkner said.

“But from 1975, when the Vietnam War ended, to 1990, when the first Gulf War began, you have a 15-year period in there considered peacetime.”

Faulkner said it’s not affecting the agency’s veterans centers right now, but that could change in the future.

“That’s why we asked for that legislation — and it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“I’m considered a wartime vet, but I never had anyone shoot at me. Some of these guys who went to Beruit ... to Grenada ... in the early 1980s ... those guys got shot at but they’re considered peacetime veterans.”

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