Oklahoma Veterans Affairs director to resign
By CARMEN FORMAN | The Oklahoman | Published: September 7, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — The executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, who was retained despite a highly critical state audit of the agency released last year, plans to resign.
Doug Elliott, who served as the agency's director since February 2018, will step down Sept. 30.
The commission that oversees the agency tapped Elliott's replacement Friday.
In an Aug. 19 resignation letter to the Oklahoma Veterans Commission, Elliott said the time is right for him to move on from public service and into a legal career.
Elliott said he was proud to lead the agency in hiring more veterans, overseeing plans for a new veterans center in Sallisaw and working toward certifying the state's veterans homes so they accept Medicaid. He joined the agency as its deputy director in 2015.
"Remaining in State employment no longer fits my needs or those of my family," he wrote.
Elliot's resignation comes about a year after his leadership was in question after a state audit described low morale and a toxic work environment at the agency. Despite the audit done by then-State Auditor Gary Jones, the nine-person Veterans Commission praised Elliott's leadership and retained him as head of the agency.
At the time, Elliott dismissed the audit that cited "a culture of fear and intimidation" at the agency as politically motivated amid efforts to close and relocate the Talihina veteran's center — one of seven such centers in the state.
Agency leaders alleged auditors, who interviewed more than 250 employees over the course of three years for the audit, highlighted negative responses and ignored others.
In a news release, Sen Paul Rosino, a co-chairman of the Oklahoma Legislative Veterans Caucus, praised Elliott's work for veterans.
"I want to thank Director Elliott for his service to our country and to Oklahoma's Veterans and their families," he said. "His dedication to our state and country is to be commended."
In a special meeting, the Veterans Commission named Joel Kintsel as interim director of the agency. Kintsel joined the department as its deputy director in January 2018.
Kintsel, a veteran of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, serves as an assistant staff judge advocate within a special operations wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Prior to joining the agency, Kintsel was the parliamentarian for the Oklahoma House for more than a decade.
"Once you start serving, it gets in your blood and you can't stop," he said.
Kintsel said he's looking forward to helping Oklahoma become a leading state for veterans.
He will briefly serve as interim director while Elliott finishes at the agency. He will officially become director on Oct. 1.