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Home Away from Home

Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs impacts lives of servicemen and women

Home Away from Home

From left to right: Oliver Polk, Didier Khoo and Scotty Scuggins | Photo courtesy of the Clinton Veterans Center

The services provided by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs not only reach across the state, they reach into the hearts of veterans. 

“I think it’s a home away from home,” Martha L. Higgins, said of the veterans home in Norman. “Everyone is kind and courteous. Everything that we need is here.” 

Higgins, an Air Force veteran, has been at the center since January 2015 and appreciates the medical attention they offer. 

There are seven long-term care veterans centers throughout Oklahoma that provide medical care as well as activities for veterans. The centers are located in Clinton, Lawton, Ardmore, Sulphur, Norman, Claremore and Talihina. The Talihina center will eventually be relocated to Sallisaw; however, the move is still in the development stages. 

Joel Kintsel, executive director, said the services at the centers are, “far above what you would receive in an average private long-term care home, just in terms of activities and health care.” 

The veterans centers are just one aspect of what the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs provides to the approximate 305,000 veterans in Oklahoma. They also help with many services including work claims, benefits, education, employment, women veteran programs and a rural transportation program. There is also an up-and-coming entrepreneurial program. 

The services provided by the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs do not “end when they take off their uniform,” said Sarah J. Lane, deputy director and general counsel. 

Kintsel said they’re also working on changing a law to allow the agency to do its purchasing from veteran-owned business. He said the change is modeled after what the federal Department of Veterans Affairs does. 

“It’s a huge undertaking, but we want to, as much as we can, buy our goods and services through the veteran community. We want to be able to support them as much as we can,” Kintsel said. 

About 10% of Oklahomans serve in the military; at the national level, it’s about 1% who serve, he said. 

“It is an honor to serve this group of people who are so dedicated to our country, and it’s done at such a high level here,” Kintsel said. “The other thing that is really beautiful in Oklahoma is the fact that about 30% of the Native American tribes in Oklahoma serve in the military; it’s a high percentage in that demographic that serve in the armed forces of the United States.” 

Jeannene Wade, programs administrator for recreation at the Norman veterans center, said their program is very progressive. 

“It’s more than playing bingo. We don’t want our veterans staring at walls,” Wade said. “I would say the people who work at all seven centers work there because they love the veterans. We don’t want veterans to look at it like it’s a center. It’s a home.” 

She said many veterans stay quiet and don’t want to talk about their life, but the center provides a safe place for them to open up. Some veterans share their life stories with students. A young person can read about the Battle of the Bulge, but it’s more effective if they meet a veteran who can tell them about it. 

Candice McIntire, activity director of the special needs unit in Norman, said they encourage the interests the veterans have. 

“We encourage our veterans to maintain as much mobility and independence as possible and we try to help them organize activities.” 

Jesse Jaques, an Army paratrooper veteran, said there are activities for them every day and they do not get bored. He has been at the Norman center since April 2018. 

He said he likes the treatment that he receives and that people are taking care of him 24 hours a day. 

“I’ve had quite a few people ask me about this place and I tell them, ‘You’re not going to find a better place,’” Jaques said. “I was living by myself before I came. When I went in the hospital, I knew I couldn’t live by myself anymore. In here I’ve got about 300 buddies; that makes a lot of difference.”