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Veterans call for more funding

Updated:
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Oklahoma veterans rallied at the state Capitol on Tuesday and claimed a legislative victory one day after
Gov. Frank Keating backed off a threat to cut $1.65 million from the state's veterans centers.

"This rally can really be one of celebration," retired Army Maj. Gen. Clyde Spence said as about 300 veterans, some using wheelchairs, crutches and canes, applauded along the Capitol's south steps.

Veterans representing World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War said they are not finished with their demands and
sought an additional $2.2 million to hire 110 nurses aides to give hands-on care to ailing veterans.

On Monday, Keating withdrew his proposed cuts to the Office of Veterans Affairs and said he favored funding at the same level as last year.

"The object of trying to cut the veterans was never on the table with me," said Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, a U.S. Army veteran and chairman of the House Veterans and Military Affairs Committee.

"It was wrong this year just like it was wrong in 1995 to propose to cut veterans benefits," said Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor, D-Claremore.

Taylor said lawmakers are working to "draw a line in the sand that says no more discussion of cuts in veterans benefits."

Some veterans called out for the Republican governor during the rally, stating "Let's visit with Frank" and "Where's Frank?"

"The governor heard it like it was. And that's the reason he backed off," said House Speaker Loyd Benson, D-Frederick, a
Vietnam veteran.

Sen. Keith Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said Oklahoma built its veterans centers following World War II in lieu of bonus payments to returning veterans. Oklahoma now has about 324,000 veterans.

"We have to make sure that people don't forget those sacrifices," Leftwich said.

"We have premier veterans centers in this state," said Sen. Sam Helton, D-Lawton. Helton said the state's six veterans centers
need the additional nurses aides to meet national standards.

"We're under the national standards now," Helton said.

Oklahoma's veterans centers provide 1,187 beds for elderly veterans, but Keating has said several capital projects have been launched during his administration to ensure long-term care for veterans and reduce the waiting list at veterans centers.

Fifty new beds are under construction at Ardmore and 60 replacement beds are being installed in Sulphur. There are 52 new beds going in at Claremore and centers at Talihina and Clinton are being remodeled.

On Friday, ground will be broken on a state-of-the-art, $32 million veterans facility in Lawton.
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