- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs wants to change its name to differ from the federal agency to avoid confusion, department Director Cissy Rucker said.

“There’s a lot of talk about the VA issues; it’s splashed all over the news,” Rucker told the Arkansas Veterans Commission on Tuesday. “A lot of people think that’s us.”

Officials haven’t yet said what new name they plan to propose. The request comes as the state department is paying off its debt and is finalizing plans for a new veterans home in North Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1t4MScF ).

Rucker said that the department will send its final $22,000 payment next month to the federal VA to finish paying off the more than $580,000 it illegally collected over three years, from 2009 to 2012. The discovery led to Rucker being appointed by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe after David Fletcher was dismissed as director.

In 2009, the federal VA increased how much it paid monthly to state veterans homes in caring for disabled vets. The change barred states from accepting out-of-pocket fees for the care. Arkansas officials say the department continued collecting those fees for three years.

Rucker said that once the November payment is sent, the Arkansas VA will start paying overdue rent to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The department found that a year ago its Fayetteville Veterans Home had $236,000 in unpaid bills. Part of that total was a missing $36,000 payment in February 2013 to UAMS Northwest. The veterans home occupies rooms in the six-story building.

The other $200,000 is owed to an Arkadelphia pharmacy for more than a year of invoices. Karen Watkins of the state VA said the department plans to seek approval from state lawmakers to pay that bill.

“With the financial issues this agency has had, it will take time to turn things around,” Watkins said. “It doesn’t just happen overnight. But we’re making strides. I feel like a year from now, we won’t be having these conversations.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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