The Interview: Senator Bernie Sanders, Chairman of Senate Veteran Affairs Committee
by Hardy Stone
(April 22, 2013 ) -VetLikeMe interviewed Senator Sanders from Washington on April 19, 2013.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your time. VetLikeMe is a national newspaper dedicated solely to Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business (SDVOSB). We began publication in November 2009. Please find back issues at vetlikeme.org
VetLikeMe: We appreciate the immediacy of your legislative efforts in the 113th Congress. Thank you for co-sponsoring “Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act of 2013” with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The veteran unemployment situation as you know is well below national unemployment rates. All veterans who served and continue to serve in the Middle East deserve employment opportunities, and it’s a National disgrace when thousands of veterans remain unemployed and very often homeless. By introducing this Act so soon in the legislative session, do you regard this situation as a priority for the Veterans Affairs Committee?
Senator Sanders: “At a time when nearly one in 10 post-9/11-era veterans are unemployed, this bill honors the sacrifice of the men and women who served in our armed forces by providing them with training to find jobs. S.6, “Putting Our Veterans Back To Work Act of 2013,” reauthorizes the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) created by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act.
“This program will help our veterans compete by providing unemployed veterans with up to one year of Montgomery GI Bill benefits to qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors.
“The legislation also extends VA’s authority to provide benefits under VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program to veterans with severe injuries or illnesses and additional two years. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will be looking very seriously at how to improve veterans’ employment and training programs and other ways to get our veterans back to work.”
VLM: The unemployment situation is increasingly dire for disabled veterans. All veterans are pleased that this new legislation extends the VOW to Hire Heroes Act passed by the 112th. These training programs and increased employment opportunities are critical for all veterans, but especially for disabled vets. Will federal agencies be encouraged to participate with this Act?
Senator Sanders: The legislation, S. 6, “Putting Our Veterans Back to Work Act of 2013,” would reauthorize training and employment services created by the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. Several of these provisions require collaboration among federal agencies. The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will continue to encourage collaboration where appropriate among federal agencies to ensure veterans are receiving the benefits they earned and deserve.
VetLikeMe: PL 106-50, the “Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999” set a government-wide contract set-aside ‘goal’ for SDVOSB at 3% of total agency procurement dollars. According to most recent SBA data, very, very few federal agencies have met this 1999 federal mandate. Most agencies don’t come close to the mandated ‘goals.’ Does this 1999 legislation agree with your Committee’s efforts to open more employment opportunities to disabled veterans and all veterans?
Senator Sanders: An important part of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s responsibilities includes oversight of existing programs and benefits within our jurisdiction. This includes reviewing a program’s effectiveness, and if a program is not working, finding ways to make it more effective to ensure we are providing veterans the benefits they deserve.
“The Committee passed legislation last year as part of the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Act of 2012,” increasing the penalty for persons that misrepresent their status. The Committee will continue its oversight role and to review legislative proposals to support employment opportunities for veterans.
VetLikeMe: As you noted on January 23 when introducing the first veteran’s employment bill: “The Veterans’ Affairs Committee will be looking very seriously at how to improve veterans’ employment and training programs.” The 1999 legislation can go far in establishing employment opportunities through hiring in all federal government procurement operations.
The Veterans Administration is the only government agency to exceed their contracting goal. Most veterans agree that the VA should always meet its contracting goal and do more to employ veterans. For instance, PL 109-461 (the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006), mandates that the VA put “Veterans First” in contracting opportunities. The VA consistently ignores this legislation and contracts within a pool of large businesses that have the resources to enroll in the Federal Supply Schedule contracting list.
The Government Accountability Office in the past year has sustained several dozen bid protests in favor of SDVOSB. Public Law 109-461 mandates the VA to put veterans first, the GAO ruled. Within the past year, however, VA has ignored dozens of GAO decisions. By adhering to this legislation, the VA would contribute to the employment of hundreds of thousands of veterans. Within the veteran small business community, veterans hire veterans, and that’s a given.
I wish you good fortune as you improve the unemployment situation faced by America’s veterans. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for spending time with VetLikeMe.
Agencies must obey law to help vet-owned businesses
May 5, 2013 by Hardy Stone
A House committee is asking 34 government agencies, including the Defense Department, military services and defense-related agencies, to prove they are complying with a new law aimed at helping veteran-owned small businesses win government contracts.
Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the House Small Business Committee, suspects that most if not all of the agencies have failed to comply with a change in law that took effect Jan. 2. It requires an agency to make helping veteran-owned businesses a priority by appointing someone to work exclusively on behalf of these and other small businesses.
Graves said he believes some agencies are either unaware of the new rules for Small and Disadvantaged Businesses Utilization offices or have not yet implemented the changes, so he is asking agency heads to report to him by May 13. The new rules were included in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which became law when President Obama signed it on Jan. 2. Beyond the order that each agency’s advocate for veteran-owned small businesses have no other duties, the law mandates other changes that Graves said his committee believes “would improve the ability of each agency to ensure that small businesses receive the maximum practicable opportunity to compete for contracts.” Graves said he already knows that the Veterans Affairs Department is not complying with the law after a March 19 hearing at which the head of VA’s small business office admitted he had other duties, but said he saw no conflict. Graves has asked VA Secretary Eric Shinseki why VA isn’t complying with the law and what steps will be taken to comply. But he has not yet received a reply, according to Graves spokesman Darrell Jordan.
Every federal agency with procurement powers is supposed to have a Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization Office, headed by a senior executive service officer who has experience with federal acquisition programs and contracting.
One of the primary purposes of the office is to review agency purchasing plans to determine which contracts are a good fit for small businesses, especially for vet- eran-owned and disabled veteran-owned businesses. For small businesses that win contracts, the office also is supposed to help them get payments and to collect late payments from the government.
Graves’ letters went to the Defense Department, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Defense Contract Management Agency, Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency and Department of Defense Education Activity.
Sam Graves, Chairman
House Small Business Committee
State of Veteran Entrepreneur Roundtable
May 5, 2013 by Hardy Stone
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) along with U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) hosted a roundtable to discuss the state of veteran entrepreneurship across the country.
“They fought to provide us with the American Dream, and now we need to make certain they have the opportunity to live the American Dream.”
Participants at the informal discussion included several veteran business owners and representatives from other organizations. Specifically, Karl Monger, GallantFew Executive Director, Wichita, Kan.; Dali Rivera, Elite Revolutionary Solutions Owner; Blake Hall, Troop ID Founder and CEO; Michele Markey, Kauffman FastTrac Vice President; Tak Lo, Techstars Associate; Rhett Jeppson, Small Business Administration Associate Administrator; and Davy Leghorn, National Economic Commission Assistant Director and The American Legion.
• The state of existing federal government programs and the ability to conduct outreach to veterans and those still serving in the Armed Forces
• Ideas on how current programs may be improved to better support veteran entrepreneur
• Programs that assist veterans and the success of veterans who have or have not used existing programs to launch their own businesses
• Gaps or issues not being addressed by current programs and workforce for veteran entrepreneurs
“Veterans in Kansas, as well as across the country, face challenges when they return from service,” Sen. Moran said. “While the VA has often been focused on job training and employment, our veterans are also great businessmen and women and we want to explore the opportunity for them to start a business. Today, we heard from veterans — mostly veteran entrepreneurs — to figure out if there is a way we can help whether through the private sector, veterans’ organizations, or individually. They fought to provide us with the American Dream, and now we need to make certain they have the opportunity to live the American Dream.”
To learn more about the participants and organizations who contributed to the roundtable, visit: GallantFew, Troopswap & TroopID, Maestro Blocks, TechStars, Kauffman Foundation FastTrac Veteran’s Initiative, Small Business Administration, and The American Legion
Editorial by Paul Jensen
Not long ago, I did an office tour of offices of senior agency officials in DC, advocating on behalf of SDVOSBs and armed with the last round of statistics that show little compliance with the federal hiring goals. I was warmly received by just about everyone (though some gaffed me off to low-level staffers).
My last stop was to an agency that is still statistically at ZERO for SDVOSB contracts. There, I met with the Chief of Staff in his office. He was polite, but bored with my message. I pointed out that it appeared that his agency had consistently ignored the directives to contract with SDVOSBs. He said that was true. I was stunned by his frank reply, and it took me a second to recover.
I pointed out that there were laws that directed hiring percentages, and fumbled to pull out copies of the latest. He brushed it all aside and pretended to look over my shoulder. “There are laws?” he said in a polite but mocking tone, “You mean I might get ARRESTED if I don’t hire Vets? Did you bring the police with you?”
It wasn’t the response I’d expected. He went on to tell me that I should save my breath and not waste the time of senior management in federal agencies. “You talk about statistics? Let me give you one–your constituency is something like 2% of the population. When Veteran contracting is at zero, there’s no Jesse Jackson going on Larry King to call me out and hold my feet to the fire. There’s no Nancy Pelosi bringing the Women’s Caucus to my office making me worry about my job and my agency’s funding. You guys have nothing. Until you do, you’ll be ignored while we hire the squeakiest wheel. That’s just the way it works.”
Polite. Honest. Succinct.
And you know what? He’s right. We can hate him for it (I found myself wanting to reach for his throat), but just because we don’t like the news doesn’t mean we should kick the radio.
The happy talk that makes for good political campaign fodder doesn’t pay the bills for Veteran business owners. Speeches and awards and photo ops don’t feed our employees.
Sadly, not much has changed in the last several years. We have a verification system (CVE) that makes us the laughing stock of set-aside categories. (When they disqualify us in error, they still laud themselves for going the extra mile to weed out fraud in our ranks.) We’re consistently passed over for contracts in favor of other set-aside groups. In many cases, we’re passed over for contracts that end up going to big businesses. There is the constant, implied, thinly-veiled threat that if you sue or make trouble, you’ll never get a future contract so yours will be only a moral victory if you prevail in court.
Adding to our trouble, we’re wired in a way that makes us different than the rest of the population. Generally speaking, we’re the worst possible group to be activists. We’re disciplined, we respect authority, we’ve learned the hard way to get knocked down and then get back up on our own. We do what we’re told. And right now, we’re being told to be quiet and sit in the back of the bus.
Eventually, we’ll figure out that the only way forward is the way that various groups that have gone before us have used–some form of civil disobedience. It’s one of the things I admired in Hardy Stone’s publication frthe start–his call and recognition of the need for an edge to our approach.
Shuffling quietly, individually to the back of the bus only ensures we’ll always get the short straw. And if that’s our approach, it’s what we deserve.
On The Hill May 2013
May 5, 2013 by Hardy Stone
Here’s a snapshot of the latest newsworthy legislative activity from up on the hill:
H.R. 833: To amend title 10, United States Code, to require that the Purple Heart occupy a position of precedence above the new Distinguished Warfare Medal.
Introduced: Feb 26, 2013 (113th Congress, 2013–2015)
Sponsor: Rep. Duncan Hunter [R-CA50] Status: Referred to Committee
Apr 09, 2013 — New Cosponsors
Rep. Candice Miller [R-MI10], Rep. Richard Neal [D-MA1], Rep. Ed Whitfield [R-KY1], Rep. Cynthia Lummis [R-WY0], Rep. Tom Cotton [R-AR4], Rep. Elizabeth Esty [D-CT5]
Apr 18, 2013 — New Cosponsor
New Cosponsor: Rep. Garland “Andy” B arr [ R -KY6]
S. 470: A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to require that the Purple Heart occupy a position of precedence above the new Distinguished Warfare Medal.
Introduced: Mar 06, 2013 (113th Congress, 2013–2015) Sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester [D-MT]
Status: Referred to Committee
Apr 15, 2013 — New Cosponsors
Sen. Thomas Coburn [R-OK]
Sen. John Hoeven [R-ND]
From Senator Bernie Sanders’ Press room
Chairman, Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs
Veteran Homelessness A vow by the Obama administration to eliminate veteran homelessness in two years got a shot in the arm Thursday when leaders of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs proposed legislation to help plug holes in the existing veteran safety net, NBC News reported online.
VA Outreach A Senate hearing on Wednesday examined outreach by the Veterans Affairs Department and community organizations, Military Times reported. “In many areas, VA does enormously good work and enormously important work,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Sanders. “But no matter how good the programs are that the VA has … it doesn’t mean anything to the veteran if the veteran does not know what that program is about.”
“Big Picture” Concept – A United Voice
During the past two weeks, an interesting discussion developed on the Certified SDVOSB group on LinkedIn. VetLikeMe has carried comments from the main social networks since we began publication in January 2009.
Unlike previous versions of “Other Voices” that appeared near the credits section of VLM, the dialogue in this particular string deserves top billing because the subject matter is critical to our success as SDVOSB. As with every segment in VLM that that has featured content from these social networks, identifying information is redacted to encourage continued free and open discussion on these networks.
“Even though there are a number of veteran organizations devoted to veteran issues most of those are not focused on veteran owned business issues. In an effort to have a greater voice what thoughts are out there to present a united front?
“If the Elite Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Network would fill the void of a “unified voice” for veteran owned business issues, would someone please step in here and let us know your experiences and key contact information?” —————
“Thanks for getting this thread started. Let’s hope something continues so we can get that United Voice established for the benefit of all SDVOSB’s and VOSB’s as well!”—————
“Here’s the dirty secret that I think goes with this train of discussion–while the Elite SDVOSB Network has been incredibly successful, it remains an all-volunteer organization. As such, the people involved all have full-time jobs. In a perfect world, the organization (and when I say that, I mean “us” since there is nobody else but) would be able to work for a sustaining government grant or a donation that would allow the Elite to hire a full-time staff.”
The trouble is that there remains, I think, a persistent attitude that seeks to know what can be done for us by others. There are many SDVOSBs that attend the annual conference, reap any possible benefit from it, who then disappear from the landscape for a year (until the next conference), assuaging any guilt with the notion that, I’ve got my business to run. I don’t have time to be involved in activism and volunteer activities like this.”
“The fact is that there is no cavalry that is poised to come running over the hill to help SDVOSBs. The national apathy towards us (how many federal agencies meet their SDVOSB contracting goals, even after all these years?) only mirrors our own apathy towards ourselves. If we don’t care, and if we don’t rise up and volunteer to raise the visibility of Veterans/disabled Veteran business owners as a class, who will?” ——–——
Hardy Stone VetLikeMe
Hardy Stone is the editor/publisher of VetLikeMe, the nation’s only publication devoted to service disabled veteran owned business.