Featured Interview: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth
In 2004, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL ) was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by an RPG on November 12, 2004. Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.
Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As one of the highest-ranking patients, she quickly became an advocate for her fellow soldiers.( and testified before Congress about caring for our Veterans and wounded warriors.) In November 2012 she was elected to Congress for the eighth district of Illinois.
Duckworth declined a military medical retirement and continues to drill as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Featured Interview: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth
VLM: What prompted you to join the Army?
While in graduate school at George Washington University I found that my peers and those whose values I most respected in class were all Veterans or active members of the military. They recommended I enroll in ROTC courses to learn more about the military. I fell in love with the military at basic training. I fell in love with the challenges and the camaraderie. I even liked the drill sergeants yelling at us, challenging us to do better. I knew that I’d serve as long as the Army needed me.
In addition, a member of my family has proudly served our country throughout every period of conflict dating back to the American Revolution, so service has played an enormous role in my life.
VLM: After your serious wounds you sustained in Iraq, why did you continue service to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and as a mentor to other disabled veterans?
After I sustained my injuries in Iraq, I made a commitment to my buddies who saved me to make every moment of my life count. In 2006 I was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and then went on to work as an Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009. I truly felt that my service to this country was not over after I recovered. I wanted to advocate for service men and women who dedicated so much to our country. We often forget that our responsibility to this nation’s military men and women does not end when they come home.
VLM: In your opening statement on June 26 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, you began as follows: “I want to support our small businesses as much as possible, I want these set-asides to be successful but I am appalled by the advantages taken because of the system…” Is one of these advantages [for fraud] the government-wide policy of ‘self-certification’ of service-connected disability?
It is disheartening to learn about fraud in government programs that have been created to support Veterans who have given so much to our country. These programs and set-asides are meant to encourage those with service-connected disabilities to take the skills and experiences they have learned in the military and put them to good use. When people exploit the system they do a great disservice to our country.
VLM: During the hearing, you asked Mr. Castillo: “Do you think that the VA’s disability rating of 30% is accurate?” Your disability rating for loss of two limbs is 20% …Do you think a general review of the VA’s rating system is overdue?
I received a disability rating of 20% for the injuries to my arm, and I am a 100% disabled Veteran overall.
The VA’s disability rating system was implemented prior to World War II and needs to be reviewed. I’ve always made clear that it is of the utmost importance to fulfill promises that have been made to Veterans and ensure that they are provided with the benefits and services they deserve. When someone takes advantage of the system it slows down the process for our Veterans most in need.
SBA Issues Final Rule Updating Penalties for Small Business Contract Fraud
Read final rule here https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/06/28/2013-15418/small-business-size-and-status-integrity From the Federal Register:
“Amended the Small Business Act to provide that if a concern willfully seeks and receives an award by misrepresenting its small business size or status, there is a presumption of loss to the United States equal to the value of the contract, subcontract, cooperative agreement, cooperative research and development agreement or grant.
“The Small Business Act was also amended to provide that certain actions, such as submitting an offer in response to a solicitation set aside for small business concerns, will be deemed a representation of small business size or status.”
SBA Releases 2012 Small Business Scorecard, Federal Government Meets SDVOSB 3% Goal House Small Business Committee Chairman Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., was less enthusiastic. “The fact that the federal government hasn’t met this meager 23 percent small business contracting goal for seven years is simply unacceptable, and further proof that our government continues to give lip service to small companies…”
From Government Executive:
Congresswoman Blasts “Disabled” Veteran
by Sarah Schauerte
When it comes to government contracting in the service disabled veteran-owned set-aside arena, there are different types of unsavory behavior. There are those who install a Rent-A-Vet, or set up pass-through corporations. There are others who lie about their own veteran status.
Then, there are those who receive millions of dollars in set-asides because “their foot hurts.”
During a June 26 hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) eviscerated federal contractor, Braulio Castillo of D.C. – based Strong Castle.
Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq War veteran who lost both of her legs and severely injured her arm while in service. Castillo incurred a minor foot injury while in military prep school. Both are “service-disabled.”
Duckworth chastised Castillo for exploiting his service-connected status in order to win millions of contract dollars. Duckworth read from a letter Castillo had written to the government for purposes of securing contracts, which included the verbiage: “these are crosses that I bear due to my service to this great country, and I would do it again to protect this great country.”
In a voice dripping with sarcasm, Duckworth said: “I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football at prep school again to protect this great country…shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws…but you have broken the trust of this great nation.”
And what happens when someone like Castillo ignores the line? As Duckworth pointed out, not only does this type of action “game” the system and divert millions of dollars from eligible veteran-owned companies, but it affects veteran benefits: “If this nation stops funding veteran’s health care and calls into question why veterans deserve their benefits, it is because cases like you have poisoned the public’s opinions on these programs.”
On the flip side of this, it’s true that Castillo hasn’t broken any laws. He went through the disability compensation claim process like every other veteran. Right now, thousands of veterans who never engaged in active combat receive disability compensation, and the fact they never picked up a gun doesn’t make them any less disabled or less entitled to their “disabled status.” Let’s hope, however, that they won’t write letters to government officials and imply the nature of their disabilities are different in order to obtain set-asides.
As a side note, Duckworth engaged in this public roast because Castillo was already in hot water – the hearing addressed a committee report focusing on Castillo’s close friendship with a top Internal Revenue Service (IRS) purchasing official who may have “influenced the [contractor] selection process” in favor of Strong Castle to allow it to secure $500 million in IRS contracts. When the IRS official exercised his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and was dismissed from the hearing, Castillo found himself in the harsh spotlight.
Access Duckworth’s blasting of Castillo at: http://breakingdefense.com/2013/06/27/rep-tammy-duckworth-berates-dubious-disabled-vet-but-theres-a-deeper-problem/.
Weekly blog: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com.
VETS 13 VETERAN ENTREPRENEUR TRAINING SYMPOSIUM
By Scott Denniston
During the week of June 10-13, 2013, in Reno, NV the National Veteran Small business Coalition (NVSBC) hosted VETS 13. The mission of the NVSBC is to transition veterans into business owners serving the federal government. VETS 13 is the premier event giving veteran business owners the tools necessary to be successful businesses in the federal marketplace.
In spite of sequestration and limited government participation over 300 participants, including veteran business owners, large business prime contractors and subject matter experts, most veterans themselves participated in workshops, match making, plenary sessions, as well as networking sessions, all with the goal of making veterans better more effective business owners connecting with participants who could help grow their businesses. Keynote speakers Justin Constantine and Commander Kirk Lippold inspired to value positive attitudes, teamwork and dedication to overcoming adversity. Mr Constantine was severely injured by a sniper and has undergone numerous surgeries to reconstruct his life. Command Lippold was commander of the USS Cole when attacked by terrorists in Yemen. Andre Gudger, Director OSBP, Office of Secretary of Defense and Tom Leney, Director OSBP, Department of Veterans Affairs addressed the importance of being “procurement ready” and the CVE verification program. Workshops addressed Successful Marketing Tactics, Mergers & Acquisitions, 2014 Healthcare Reform, Mid-Tier Contractor Issues, among others.
During the opening luncheon the NVSBC presented “Champions of Veterans Enterprise” awards to organizations which exceeded the 3% goal of contracting and/or subcontracting to veteran and service disabled veteran owned small businesses. The first ever “Gordon H. Mansfield Veteran Small Business Award” was presented to Bud Almas of B-3 Solutions for his work to hire and promote veterans and their issues. Closing VETS 13, Sergeant Major of the Army, Retired, Jack Tilly discussed the American Freedom Foundation and its mission to honor the men and women of our armed forces and raising awareness for their service and sacrifice and how we all can get involved in supporting our troops and their families.
We Need a New Champion
by Hardy Stone
We’re all tired of the same old noise. Since VetLikeMe was launched in January 2010, we’ve been holding out hope that ‘maybe—just maybe—this or that legislation, Congressional Hearing, court case, GAO decision, or political speech would finally make 106-50 a government-wide reality.
“Veteran’s First” — the ‘mantra’ of the Veterans Administration — is true for the most part. In procurement, though, VA has failed and failed again to support and honor SDVOSBs and VOSBs. VLM knows that General Shinseki has a long history of service to the Nation and has managed staff appointments and the functions of the Department of Veterans Affairs in an exemplary fashion. His staff falls short, however, regarding procurement policy, where Veterans are not first, not second or third, but forth in order of priority in VA’s procurement hierarchy. First in line is Federal Prison Industries, second is “Ability One” and NISH (programs for people who are severely disabled), third are vendors on the Federal Supply Schedule and finally — SDVOSB followed by VOSB.
In 2009, in the wake of massive fraud discovered in the Veterans Program (especially SDVOSBs), Representative Nadia Velazquez (D-NY), then Chair of the House Committee on Small Business, questioned the long standing federal and VA policy of self-certification. Then Representative Bob Filner (D-CA)—as Chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs—questioned the SDVOSB set-aside policy regarding VA procurements.
Then we tried contesting the VA’s “Veteran’s First” (PL-109-461) through the Government Accountability Office (GAO). GAO sustained more than two dozen protests by veteran owned business for violation of PL 109-461.
The VA ignored GAO’s ruling repeatedly, though, and GAO finally gave up—citing excessive paperwork burden for the veteran owned business and GAO. If VA ignored GAO and continuously issued memos to its contracting staff that GAO was not to be followed, then it was simply not worth the staff hours spent on a lost cause. And so it continues.
Aldevra, and Kingdomware, both SDVOSBs—were our champions for a while. The Southern California SDVOSB Network also took up the mantle.
There has been a lull recently in this long-standing battle, but it’s not over—not by a long shot.
DoD May Adopt ‘Veterans First’ Policy
The American Legion – June 17, 2013
It is still a few steps away from reality, but the Department of Defense (DoD) may adopt a business contract award program based upon the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) existing “Vets First Contracting Program.” This program puts qualified service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) and veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) first in line for the award of appropriate VA contracts.
A significant step toward that end was taken when the U.S. House of Representatives approved an American Legion-backed measure that, if also passed by the Senate and enacted, would order DoD to study the impact of adopting such a veteran-centric policy.
The measure is an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), or Pentagon budget, introduced by Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and passed unanimously by the House on June 14. It directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the administrator of the Small Business Administration and Secretary of Veterans Affairs, to issue a report on the “impacts of Department of Defense contracting with (VOSBs and SDVOSBs) on veteran entrepreneurship and veteran unemployment.”
Included in the mandated DoD report would also be “a description of the effect that increased economic opportunity for veterans has on issues such as veteran suicide and veteran homelessness.” The amendment sets a deadline of 180 days from its enactment for the issuance of the report.
The American Legion was instrumental in the formulation of the amendment, with Legion Small Business Task Force Chairman Bill Jenkins taking part in the actual writing of the measure. Jenkins is vice president of Skyline Unlimited, a Virginia-based SDVOSB that offers a variety of supportive services to veterans. He expressed delight at news of the amendment’s passage, saying, “This is a great bill, a no-brainer and long overdue for our veteran business community.”
Let’s ask the VA: How’s that Vet’s First program working out NOW for veterans who need contracts for their businesses to survive? Hum…let’s see…VA has dodged this issue since day 1—they profess that SDVOSD are first in line followed by VOSB. The unemployment situation for returning veterans is unacceptable by any standard. What about disabled veterans?
See You in St. Louis—Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Conference, August 6-8
“VA is committed to bringing more Veteran-Owned Small Businesses into a public-private partnership to help them grow and succeed,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This event is a unique opportunity for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses to connect directly with government procurement decision makers and business partners.”
Veterans will be able to attend a wide variety of classes on business operations with more than 200 breakout sessions on how to start and grow a business and successfully compete for federal contracts. Veterans will learn how to get the Veteran-owned business certification needed to compete for federal contracts; outreach to veteran communities; and target networking to discuss government procurement and contracting requirements.
There are 26 million small businesses in the United States. Of these, 3.6 million are Veteran and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned businesses. Together they employ over 1.8 million workers and generate over $1.6 trillion in revenue. VA assists Veteran-owned businesses with everything from small business start-ups to large defense contracts.VA invites all interested persons and businesses to attend. More information is available at www.va.gov/OSDBU.
“We trained hard. But it seemed that every time we formed into teams we would be reorganized. We learned later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and what a wonderful method it is for producing the illusion of progress while creating confusion, inefficiency and
Charlton Ogburn, 1957
VeikeMe is published monthly.
Editor and publisher: Hardy Stone
Associate Editor: David Coakley
Contributing Writers: Steven Koprince,
Scott Denniston, Sarah Schauerte,
Rep. Duckworth interview facilitated by Anton Becker
CVE Verification Guidelines
By Steven Koprince
Do you have July 12 circled on your calendar? If not, go get a pen, because that’s the deadline for submitting comments to the VA Center for Veterans Enterprise about improving the verification program. It’s important that the CVE hear from as many VOSBs, SDVOSBs and potential applicants as possible. See http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-05-13/pdf/2013-11326.pdf for information about how to comment.
To be fair, the CVE has made significant steps to try to improve the verification process, such as the new pre-determination findings program. I applaud the CVE’s ongoing efforts at improvement. However, as many VLM readers can likely attest, more can be done to improve the process. What follows are highlights of what I expect to suggest to the VA in my own comments:
- Work with the SBA to harmonize eligibility requirements between the VA’s SDVOSB program and the SBA’s program. Many SDVs do not even realize that two separate SDVOSB programs exist, and differing eligibility requirements makes the process even more difficult to understand and navigate.
- Ease off on mid-term cancellation notices, except in cases of fraud or changed circumstances. When the CVE has approved a company’s paperwork, that same paperwork should not later be used to find the firm ineligible in the middle of its two-year term.
- Reallocate the extra resources from the cancellation team to the verification and reconsideration teams, where delays in processing applications are still too long.
- Add a feature to the online VetBiz application to alert married veterans in community property states that they must submit a transmutation agreement or other evidence that the spouse has waived his or her rights under the community property laws. Veterans should not be forced to go through the time and effort of applying, only to be rejected for failing to provide paperwork that was never requested.
- Send important notifications (e.g., denial letters, notices of proposed cancellation) by certified mail. CVE emails sometimes seem to go astray.
- Identify every eligibility issue in the initial denial letter. Too many firms get stuck in a “cycle of rejections” in which they correct matters identified in a denial letter, only to get a second denial letter identifying yet more issues. The extra months spent in reconsideration can cost veterans tremendously in terms of lost contract opportunities and revenues.
- Consider whether the interpretation of “unconditional” ownership and control has gone so far as to inhibit minority investment in SDVOSBs. Is it not reasonable, for instance, for a minority investor to insist that the SDVOSB not be dissolved or the bylaws amended without his or her consent? The size decisions of the SBA Office of Hearings and Appeals offer a good starting point, holding that a minority investor’s ability to block certain “extraordinary” corporate actions does not amount to negative control.
Those are my two cents (or more like seven cents) and I am sure that I will have much more to say in my comments. I hope that the CVE is listening.
VLM has featured unvarnished national news and editorial opinion concerning the SDVOSB community since Nov. 2009. From the beginning we’ve operated in the red, but this publication will always be free.
We hope VLM keeps the SDVOSB community informed so that decision makers will provide increased federal contracting opportunities for those of us injured while serving our country.
Aldevra, Portage, MI
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GovCon, Tampa, FL
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Hardy Stone is the editor/publisher of VetLikeMe, the nation’s only publication devoted to service disabled veteran owned business.