A senate review by Senator Al McAffrey

OK State Senator Al McAffrey. File photo.


(Oklahoma City – Feb. 28) As a Navy veteran, I’m very concerned about the health and well-being of our military men and women.  As legislators, I believe it’s our job to ensure that their rights are protected when they’re deployed and also that they have access to high quality health care as well as educational and training opportunities to help them find employment when they return home or get out of service. 

I’m pleased that several measures addressing these areas have been approved in Senate committees and I’d like to discuss them this week.

SB 228 would help ensure Oklahoma’s veterans are receiving the best possible care at the state’s seven veteran’s centers by authorizing the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) to establish education and training programs for center employees.  This would ensure that nursing staff and other employees at the centers have the latest knowledge and training necessary for veteran care.  It’d also allow employees to work to become eligible for promotions through additional education, which could be paid for through additional years of service with ODVA. 

SB 466 would protect deployed soldiers from certain legal actions by not allowing a veteran’s deployment time to count under the statute of limitation if legal action is brought against that individual.  It’s unfortunate, but there are individuals and companies who will bring legal actions against soldiers who are deployed even though they are unable to protect or represent themselves in these legal cases (including lawsuits, foreclosures, etc.).  The soldiers’ spouses are unfairly harassed until they return from deployment.  Troops have enough to worry about when fighting in a conflict.  They don’t need the added stress of legal battles, which can wait until they’re home. 

SB 486, would create the 9/11 G.I. Bill, to provide some financial assistance to veterans of the Iraqi Freedom or Afghanistan Enduring Freedom conflicts who have been deemed 100 percent disabled after being injured while serving in the line of duty.  The bill would provide these veterans, their spouses and children with free tuition to any state technology center, college or university in Oklahoma.  The measure would also provide free tuition to the surviving spouses and children of those veterans killed in action since September 11, 2001. 

SB 527 would authorize the Advisory Committee on Medical Care for Public Assistance Recipients to establish and monitor two pilot programs for training caregivers on the latest and most effective ways to help returning troops who are struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).  According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, 22 percent of all combat casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan have resulted in TBI, compared to 12 percent of Vietnam related combat casualties. 

SB 629 would require the State Department of Health to once again start inspecting the state’s veteran’s centers.  State inspections were stopped in 2003.  Currently, they’re only inspected by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  These inspections are supposed to be unannounced but during an interim study this fall, legislators learned that center staff knows when the inspections will be and make necessary and temporary changes in order to pass.  Things then return to normal at the centers, and at some this includes understaffing and less than satisfactory conditions, which is what has led to the many reports of abuse and neglect in recent years.  This bill would help restore state oversight and accountability of these centers ensuring that our veterans receive the highest quality of care. 

SB 759 would create the Deployed Parents School Act of 2013.  The bill would make it easier for military families to enroll their children in new schools.  This bill is needed because there are Oklahomans who have been deployed and their spouse and children return from an out-of-state military base to live with family members in Oklahoma.  The problem is that some school districts will try to keep the family from enrolling because they don’t have their permanent address in that particular district even though the relatives they’re staying with do.  This measure would require school districts to adopt a policy regarding the transfer of the children of deployed military members. 

All of these great bills will be heard by the full Senate in the next two weeks. 

If you have any questions or comments, I can be reached by email atmcaffrey@oksenate.gov or by phone at (405) 521-5610.  You can also write me:  Senator Al McAffrey, State Capitol, 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd. Room 527A, Oklahoma City, OK, 73105.