Legislation Endorsed by House Panel Would Help Veterans, Improve Access to Rural Health Care, Update Dental Statutes

OKLAHOMA CITY – A trio of measures to help military veterans, along with legislation to update Oklahoma’s dental statutes and to expand the ability of physician assistants to practice medicine in remote areas, were all endorsed Tuesday by the Democrat members of a state House panel.

The House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Health approved Senate Bills 366, 398, 713, 753 and 781 on unanimous votes. Reps. Claudia Griffith, D-Norman; Will Fourkiller, D-Stilwell; and Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, supported all five bills, which now advance for consideration by the full A&B committee.

  • SB 398 would establish a burial assistance program for indigent military veterans. An amendment the subcommittee adopted would broaden the program to cover the costs of cremation, too.

Shelton voted for the measure, declaring, We should honor our veterans responsibly.” However, the Oklahoma City Democrat said, “There’s already a mechanism” for burying indigent citizens. “It’s the county’s responsibility.”

The provisions of SB 398 might involve perhaps four funerals a year, but the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has no precise estimate on the number of burials/cremations nor the projected cost, the subcommittee was told.

The bill received a “do pass” recommendation on a 9-0 subcommittee vote.

  • The state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services would be instructed by SB 713 to fund seven “peer-supported, drop-in” centers for military veterans. Each facility would cost an estimated $35,000 to $40,000.

SB 713 would erect “the framework” for establishing the centers and involves no funding.

A drop-in center is euphemistically called “a coffee bunker” and is “a place where veterans can talk, share their concerns, receive job placement and get substance abuse referral,” the subcommittee was informed. A drop-in center in Tulsa accommodates up to 300 veterans a week, the panel was told.

  • SB 366 would create a grant program to help disabled military veterans buy or remodel housing that would be considered “disabled friendly.”

The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs has $170,000 set aside to provide 170 eligible veterans with $1,000 grants each, ledgers reflect. The intent of SB 366, though, is to provide special housing grants of up to $5,000 per veteran “for the purpose of bearing the costs not borne by the federal government for a specifically designed home for disabled veterans.”

Raising the grant limit to $5,000 would cost an additional $680,000, which is highly unlikely this year since the Legislature is coping with a $611 million shortfall in the Fiscal Year 2015-16 budget.

  • SB 753 would increase the ability of physicians’ assistants to practice medicine in remote areas, by removing limitations of physical supervision. For example, it would allow a physician to provide supervision via telemedicine.
  • SB 781, which the subcommittee embraced unanimously, 9-0, would update the State Dental Act.



Media Director, Democratic Caucus

Oklahoma House of Representatives

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