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Missouri veterans chief resigns under pressure from governor

Missouri veterans chief resigns under pressure from governor

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JEFFERSON CITY • Two days after Gov. Eric Greitens dumped five members of a commission that oversees the state’s seven veterans homes, his new appointees accepted the resignation of the longtime director of the agency.

Against the backdrop of concerns raised about conditions at the St. Louis Veterans Home in Bellefontaine Neighbors, Larry Kay stepped down from the post he’s held at the Missouri Veterans Commission since 2008.

“We thanked him for his service in uniform and out of his uniform,” said Tim Noonan, newly elected chairman of the Missouri Veterans Commission.

“Gen. Kay served his country honorably. He made a great decision tonight. He has decided to take a very honorable step,” Noonan said.

The board accepted Kay’s resignation at a closed meeting Wednesday night.

Greitens, a Republican under pressure to act after allegations of mistreatment of residents at the facility have raged for months, also said the new commissioners should remove the home’s administrator, Rolando Carter.

Carter was placed Friday on a 45-day leave of absence, Noonan said.

“That’s a step we took to protect Missouri veterans. There is clearly a question of confidence in leadership,” Noonan said.

The commission hired Col. Grace Link of the Missouri Air National Guard as interim executive director of the Veterans Commission.

“Col. Link is a proven leader,” Noonan said.

Complaints about the home had been piling up for months, but previous inspections and reviews had not confirmed any wrongdoing.

On Monday, Greitens released the results of a fourth inspection by an outside company that showed substandard care at the home “has caused, or is likely to cause serious injury, harm, impairment, or death to a resident.”

Read our 3-part series on Eric Greitens' first year in office

The review found the home needed to update its policies for distributing psychotropic drugs and had failed to help keep veterans hydrated and clean.

On the same day, Greitens replaced five commissioners who had been appointed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat. Three of the new commissioners have connections to The Mission Continues, a charity for veterans that Greitens launched after his military career ended.

Among them is Noonan, who serves on the board of directors for The Mission Continues and donated $26,000 to Greitens’ campaign. Noonan was picked Wednesday as chairman of the commission.

Other appointees were backers of Greitens’ run for office as a political outsider. Dr. John “Bucky” Buckner and his wife donated more than $10,000 to the campaign. Dr. Jose Dominguez and his wife gave close to $8,000.

Both doctors are from Springfield.

Its not the first time Kay, a former brigadier general, has found his tenure in the crosshairs.

In 2009, Nixon appointed three new members to the commission. They attempted to replace Kay but failed.

In July 2016, a jury found Kay had harassed a then-employee, who said he had fired her because of age discrimination. Kay maintained he had fired the employee, former ombudsman Pat Rowe Kerr, because of budget cuts.

The verdict cost state taxpayers nearly $3 million in damages.

After the verdict, Kay was placed on paid administrative leave but was allowed to return after less than three weeks.

In August 2016, after Kay had returned from his leave, the union representing state employees called for Kay to resign.

In addition to the union, Sen. Scott Sifton, an Affton-area Democrat who served on the nine-member commission, had encouraged Kay to resign.

Kay, 56, earned $106,000 last year, according to state payroll records.

He joined the commission as deputy director in September 2006 and was promoted to executive director in August 2008.

He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91. His last military assignment was as U.S. Army Commander in the Balkans in 2008.

The commission has 1,750 employees and an annual budget of more than $125 million. It operates seven veterans nursing homes and six cemeteries.

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