Oklahoma Gubernatorial Candidates Share Stance On Veterans Issues

Tuesday, October 16th 2018, 8:00 pm
By: Aaron Brilbeck, Bonnie Campo

We are just three weeks away from the Oklahoma general election. News 9 has continually explored the candidates’ platforms since the primary run-off.

Reporters Bonnie Campo and Aaron Brilbeck take a deeper look into issues facing Oklahoma veterans.

In August, the state auditor released a scathing report that detailed mounting frustrations from workers inside VA clinics. The audit also revealed a lack of care provided to some veterans in the health centers throughout the state according to State Auditor Gary Jones.

Just a few weeks ago, Governor Mary Fallin released a plan to streamline veterans services. The idea would be to move veterans care from the federal level to the state level. That plan means requesting $250 million from the state's congressional delegation and the president.

Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Kevin Stitt says he wants to take a deeper look at that plan before supporting it.

“I'll have to look at what she is proposing, but veterans are going to be so important in our administration, to make sure I look at all the different outcomes. All the different facilities around the state, make sure they are top 10 in the country,” said Stitt.

News 9 asked Stitt about whether he believes the troubled Talihina Veterans Center should be moved.

“(We) will exhaust all our options to keep the doors open and improve the quality of care at the Talihina facility. My first and foremost priority is quality and accessible care for Oklahoma’s veterans who deserve the very best for the great sacrifices they have made for our nation,” said Stitt.

Democratic Candidate Drew Edmondson said he also plans to tackle veterans’ issues, especially in the wake of a scathing audit that showed a culture of fear and intimidation at the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.

Read Related Story: VA Audit Shows Hostile Working Environment That May Put Patients At Risk

"There seems to be a little chaos and it's played out in diminution of care provided in our veterans centers,” said Edmondson.

Edmondson says he’ll also look at keeping the troubled Talihina Veterans Center open.

"When I was there it looked to me like a high-quality facility and that the residents were very happy with being there and the quality of care and service they were receiving. So I see no reason to cart them off to another place,” said Edmondson.

Libertarian Candidate and Gulf War Veteran Chris Powell says he backs recommendations in a study Governor Fallin requested to localize veterans services.

"There are a lot of veterans in Oklahoma and the more that we can take care of our own the better off I think we are going to be,” said Powell.

Powell says he also has concerns about the troubled Talihina Veterans Center, but says the pros of leaving it where it is seems to outweigh the cons.

"I would lean towards leaving it where it is. It does seem like any part of the country, any way that you move is going to make it harder to get to,” said Powell.

Powell says moving the center out of Talihina could also pose problems with hiring staff.