The Oklahoma State Veterans Commission voted unanimously to go forward with closing the Talihina Veterans Center, despite a scathing state audit.
The 75-page state auditor’s report that found a, “Culture of fear and intimidation exists” at Veterans Affairs and that “Morale is reportedly at an all-time low.”
Commissioners said they don’t believe many of the findings and that the report was a waste of time and money.
"Didn’t happen,” said Veterans Affairs Executive Director Doug Elliott. “There was no impropriety found, no malfeasance. No impropriety was found, nor does any exist."
The Veterans Commission didn’t pull any punches with regards to the audit.
"This audit has caused me sleepless nights, and I looked in the mirror and I will attempt to be more cordial. I will attempt to put a smile on my face and try to do the things necessary. And I'll stop yelling. But again, I find that allegation to be without any merit," Elliott said.
So, the Veterans Commission went forward with a plan to close the Talihina center, in part, because they say it’s too far from a hospital that can help veterans.
"There's a problem commissioners with a veteran being in discomfort, jostled around, tossed and turned, and waiting to go to a hospital,” Commissioner Gary Secor said.
State Auditor Gary Jones says he was not invited to discuss his findings with the board.
"Kind of unusual for them to go through an audit without asking the auditors to come present the items. Our team was ready to do that,” said Jones. “We always do that before in the past."
Jones says his audit just presented facts reported to him by current and former employees.
But the board argued the audit was a political maneuver, designed to keep the Talihina veterans center open.
"We paid $130,000 for a special audit that looked at three years and found two minor concerns that were forwarded to the AG's office which they found no means to pursue. We then wasted a ton of time and money to respond to the accusations of former employees and individuals who opposed the relocation of Talihina,” said Elliott.
Residents of the Talihina center are expected to be moved to a new facility in one of three towns competing to house the new veterans center. The board could release more details in its September 24 meeting.