The executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs was forced out Wednesday in a move orchestrated by Gov. Mary Fallin.
John McReynolds, 70, resigned, two days after Fallin complained the department is meeting the needs of only a few thousand of the state’s 330,000 veterans.
“We can do better,” the governor wrote in a letter Monday.
The agency needs to do more to address veterans’ issues like suicides, substance abuse and mental health, Fallin said.
At Fallin’s request, the Oklahoma Veterans Commission voted 8-1 to appoint Maj. Gen. Myles Deering to replace McReynolds as the agency’s executive director.
Deering already is serving as the governor’s Cabinet secretary for Veterans Affairs and will continue in that position.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides residential care to about 1,400 veterans through the operation of seven state nursing homes and also assists state veterans with benefits and claims.
McReynolds, originally indicated he would stay on for several months in an advisory capacity, but he later told an agency spokesman that he had decided to just resign.
McReynolds declined to comment on the decision to replace him.
“My thanks go out to the commissioners of the ODVA for selecting Maj. Gen. Myles Deering to serve as the agency’s executive director,” Fallin said in a statement released after the meeting.
“General Deering is an outspoken voice for our veterans, and I know he will be an effective and passionate leader in his new post, just as he was as the military commander of Oklahoma’s National Guard.”
The vote followed a nearly three-hour executive session.
The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has been under intense public scrutiny in recent years because of several high-profile deaths of veterans who reside in the seven state nursing homes for veterans.
McReynolds initially was hired as interim director to help reform the agency in 2012 after the deaths of two veterans at the Claremore Veterans Center. One resident was scalded in a whirlpool and later died, while a second resident suffered a stroke, allegedly after a physician’s assistant arranged a sexual liaison for him. That resident also later died.
Commission Chairman Robbie Clark credits McReynolds with making many improvements.
Clark said the department’s claims and benefits division has expanded greatly under Reynolds, improvements have been made to veterans centers and the quality of life is much better for veterans.
But major quality of care concerns have resurfaced in recent months in state veterans homes.
The Norman Veterans Center was cited for multiple violations of state nursing home standards after the death of Korean War veteran James William Laughlin, 85, in October. Four staff members were fired following an investigation into allegations of staff abuse and false reporting.
Roy White, chairman of the residents council at the Norman Veterans Center, said veterans there have many concerns that are not being properly addressed. Veterans are given sheets with holes in them, and the Norman Veterans Center continues to hire doctors who have been disciplined for drug abuse and other problems, claiming they don’t have the money to hire doctors without such baggage, he said.