State House and Senate bills to close the Talihina Veterans Center are still alive, but whether one will actually become law is unknown.
The House passed a Senate bill on Monday to let the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs issue $35 million in new bonds for a new veterans center. A House bill currently in the Senate has not been heard on the floor yet.
Neither Senate Bill 1347 nor House Bill 3042 can become law if passed in their current forms. Their supporters say Talihina is understaffed and run down.
Rep. Josh West said building a facility to replace the one in Talihina shouldn’t be the state’s last action on veterans care.
"I hope that we look at every facility that has anything to do with veterans and we do come up with some kind of long-term plan," West said. "I don’t know a schedule, but I hope we go in and out of every facility, and if it doesn’t make the specs that it should for our veterans, then stinkin’ shut the place down and put it somewhere else."
Lawmakers with ties to the Talihina Veterans Center don’t want to see it closed. Rep. Justin Humphrey’s district is nearby. He said the federal government is offering grants for veteran center improvements.
"Because they recognize that rural places aren’t represented and veterans would want to remain home. And wouldn’t you rather stay in God’s country down in southeastern Oklahoma than go anywhere else?" Humphrey said.
Humphrey added the community relies on the Talihina facility for dozens of jobs. Rep. Brian Renegar said just a few years ago, Talihina led the state’s veteran centers in occupancy and nurse staffing rates.
"And guess what happened in 2015? The announcement by the ODVA that it was closing," Renegar said. "Now, I want to ask you a question. Would you go to some place to work if they announced that they were closing? This was an orchestration by the ODVA."
The Talihina center has been under fire since two veterans died there under circumstances suggesting poor care.