Chairman Sanders on Veterans Day
by Hardy Stone
BURLINGTON, Vt., Nov. 10 – U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs’ Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement on Tuesday’s observance of Veterans Day:
“The truth is that we can never truly repay the debt that we owe to those men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country. Since World War II, more than 500,000 Americans have lost their lives in war. Millions more have come home wounded in body and spirit.
“Our commitment to veterans must extend to every day of the year.”
As a nation, we have a moral obligation to provide for the wounded and their families and ensure that all veterans receive every benefit they have earned and deserve.
“As chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I am proud of the work that Congress has done in the last year to strengthen the VA and improve and expand the services and benefits available to our veterans. Homelessness among veterans has been significantly reduced, and the VA has made significant progress in cutting the waiting time for disability benefit claims. As a result of recent legislation that came out of the Veterans’ Committee, $16.5 billion has gone into the VA to make certain that all eligible veterans receive high-quality and timely health care. Much has been accomplished. More needs to be done.
“November 11, Veterans Day, is the special day of the year that we honor our nation’s heroes. Our commitment to veterans, however, must extend to every day of the year. Together, we must do all that we can to ensure that all veterans in this country get the quality health care and other benefits which they deserve.”
News from the Veteran’s Administration
Cleaning Up the VA Is a Job Tailor-made for a Veteran Like “Bob McDonald”
Today, Secretary McDonald will announce a massive re-organization of the VA on the heels of one of the biggest scandals to ever rock the second largest division of the federal government. In an interview that aired last night on 60 Minutes with Scott Pelley, Secretary McDonald, a ’75 West Point Grad laid out the course of action he and his team are taking to repair the fractured pieces of the VA healthcare system.
Secretary Of Embattled VA: ‘I Can Reset The Tone’
November 10, 2014 4:59 PM ET
Former Army Ranger and Procter & Gamble CEO Robert McDonald took over as secretary of veterans affairs three months ago, while the department was stained by scandal. The VA for years had falsified documents to conceal the delays veterans faced in getting medical care. One audit found that 13 percent of VA schedulers were told to cook the books.
VA secretary says helping vets is personal mission
By Jacqueline Klimas – The Washington Times
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said Sunday that he feels a personal commitment to provide the best care to veterans in the VA since many jumped out of airplanes alongside him during his time in the Army.
“This is very personal because I served with a lot of these guys and we were in very dangerous situations,” he said on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” holding back tears. “Those are the relationships that drive me to do this.”
After VA scandal, new American Legion director sees wait times and service improving
By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun
Verna L. Jones, the Maryland woman who started this month as new executive director of the American Legion office in Washington, assumes the job as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs tries to work through the management problems that have been blamed for long waits for health care and benefits claims.
Jones, an attorney and Army veteran who lives in Prince George’s County, is the Legion’s liaison to the White House and oversees its relations with the federal government at all levels, including the VA.
A Veterans Day message from VA Sec. Bob McDonald
What’s the Difference Between Success and Failure? TIME.
Michael I. Kaplan
Successful people fail much more often than those who are not successful. However, unlike those who try and fail – then subsequently give up without ever trying again – successful people overcome those failures with renewed determination until they finally realize their dream.
For this reason, believing successful people have a magic recipe for success that also immunizes them from failure is an outright lie. Once I prove this, and I will, please put this lie at the top of your “Things to Forget List” forever.
When it comes to the subject of success and failure, humanity in general tends to be a fair weather friend. When you tell someone your dreams they might say “You have no chance to succeed.” If you do fail the first time out they’ll say “I told you so.”
When your perseverance pays off and you finally succeed they’ll probably say “I knew you could do it” – then promptly forget all the previous failures that brought you to this point.
“The difference between success and failure is when you decide to stop trying.”
One of the fundamental philosophies underlying this mindset is the belief that life should somehow be easy. Typically, when a person says a particular task is going to be too difficult, what they are actually saying is “the task is going to be too difficult for me,” thus elevating difficult to impossible.
If you believe a task is too difficult, my first question to you would be, “Did you think it would be easy?” You might respond with, “No, but I didn’t think it would be this difficult.”
Now the truth comes out; you thought it would be easier. Had you predicted the task at hand would be difficult – but the reward would be worth the effort – you would be right on track.
At this juncture I feel compelled to admit to you just how much I hate the word “failure,” especially in light of the words’ contemporary usage. In my experience – and the point I try to make to those who use the word “failure” so freely – a failure constitutes an absolute loss from which no further action follows, and from which nothing can be learned.
Attempting to jump the Grand Canyon in your family vehicle would fit neatly into this category: zoom, whoosh, splat and done. You failed.
However, if you unsuccessfully attempt a task but still manage to gain valuable insight and knowledge, and then apply that knowledge to your next endeavor, can you honestly say the first attempt was a complete failure?
To a fault, those who have pursued their dreams and won will tell you they learned as much from their “failures” as they did from their victories. To illustrate this point, consider the following examples:
- Bill Gates: Launched his first start-up, Traf-O-Data, in 1972 to automate the transfer of data collected from roadway traffic counters to transportation engineers. Great concept but it failed miserably. Gates and his partner Paul Allen learned from the experience and created Microsoft. The rest is history.
- James Dyson: The brilliant inventor of cutting-edge vacuum cleaners spent 15 years creating 5,127 prototypes before coming up with a marketable product … all while his wife gave art lessons to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. All failed the test until # 5,128. Dyson, now a billionaire many times over, never lost sight of the dream.
- Steve Jobs: Remember when this computer guru launched the “LISA”? Most people don’t. It’s sales performance was so abysmal it got Jobs fired from the very company he founded. He launched another company: NeXT. It failed as well due to hardware issues, but the software division was bought by Apple and Jobs started back at ground zero. His motto was “failure is feedback,” which is why history will remember Steve Jobs as the genius he truly was.
If you take some time to research the back-story of those you consider to be successful, you’ll undoubtedly find a reoccurring theme: many were homeless, bankrupt and suffered a number of “failures” before finally achieving their dream.
The difference between success and failure is only a matter of where on the timeline you decide to stop trying.
Michael Kaplan is a military veteran, serial entrepreneur and author. If you enjoyed this article, see his most recent book: The Prior-Service Entrepreneur: Providing Military Veterans with the Competitive Skills to Start a Successful Business (available in the VetLikeMe Bookstore). You’re invited to connect with Michael on Twitter and Facebook as well.
Michael is a regular contributor for VetLikeMe.
This has been an eventful week for disabled veteran business owners and fraudulent businesses stealing SDVOSB set-aside contracts. FOXNews Connecticut published a broadcast story about Doug Fleming, an SDVOSB and a VLM contributor. Fox News traveled to Fleming’s business office and interviewed him for broadcast. The link is below. The San Diego Union-Tribune did a major spread on government contracting fraud and disabled ve business. The reporter contacted VetLikeMe, and we provided resources and contact information (see “Veterans Program Open to Abuse” post).
Veterans program open to abuse San Diego Union-Tribune
Idea is for disabled service members to get government contracts
By Greg Moran11:07 p.m. Nov. 9, 2014
As tens of thousands of Americans headed overseas to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, the federal government had a program in place to give those injured in service a boost when they return home.
The Veterans Benefit Act of 2003 carved out a special preference in government work for small businesses owned by service disabled veterans. Under the law, 3 percent of all government contracts are supposed go to small businesses such as construction companies, computer software firms and medical supply companies.
Despite noble intentions, the preference program has been the subject of several reports by government auditors concluding that it’s riddled with fraud and cheating by unscrupulous contractors. Some of the problems can be attributed to poor oversight regarding who gets contracts.
As early as 2009 the Government Accountability Office warned the program was “vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” largely because the government had virtually no fraud detection controls in place.
In 2011, the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the VA had given nearly $50 million in contracts to firms that weren’t veteran-owned. That was from a review of 42 selected businesses, a fraction of the thousands of contracts awarded annually.
The report warned that if the agency did not get a better handle on the problem, fraud could balloon to $500 million in five years.
Since 2008 VA fraud investigations into the program have resulted in 44 indictments of individuals or their companies, some of them long-running and audacious. For example in August a non-veteran construction contractor in Nebraska pleaded guilty to major program fraud. Prosecutors said for three years he used a company owned by a service disbaled veteran as a front to get contracts destined for legitimate disabled vet companies.
Total take: $23.5 million in bogus contracts before the scheme was uncovered.
“There are plenty of vets with substantial disabilities who deserve whatever set asides are meant for them,” said Hardy Stone, a disabled vet who started VetLikeMe, a web-based publication devoted to covering the disabled veteran programs after the fraud revelations first surfaced in 2009. “Just about anyone could say they were a disabled vet, and get away with it.”
U-T Watchdog asked the Inspector Generals offices of both the VA and the Small Business Administration for examples of successful prosecutions of vet preference fraud in California since 2010. There weren’t any, both agencies responded.
Hard to prove
Under the law the VA is required to verify that a business applying for the preference is owned and controlled by a disabled veteran. The VA has access to service records and can detemine whether a veteran was discharged with a service-related disability.
The veteran has to own at least 51 percent of the company, have full decision-making authority and run the company “on both a strategic policy and day-to-day basis.”
There are 7,147 businesses listed in the agency’s VetBiz database, the official record for legitimate disabled veterans preferenced businesses. Of those, 516 are in California and 142 in San Diego County.
A 2012 GAO report highlighted five firms that received $190 million in contracts for disabled veterans between October 2009 and December 2011, even though there was evidence the firms were ineligible.
One common fraud is a “rent-a-vet” scheme, in which a company that’s not eligible recruits a legitimate disabled veteran and offers money in exchange for use of the vet’s credentials.
Another scheme is known as a pass-through. A veteran-owned business wins a contract, and then the work and the money mostly flow to a second company that is too large to qualify as a small business or isn’t owned and controlled by a vet.
Even with evidence of fraud, prosecutions are a low priority, said Scott Denniston, executive director of the national Veterans Small Business Coalition. A former head of small business programs for the VA, he said that it was difficult to get prosecutors to pursue cases.
“It was always a struggle to get these issues up high enough to with (prosecutors) to get them to do anything,” he said.
Complicating matters, Denniston said, is that government rules for the preference programs are confusing and vague and lend themselves to gray areas that make fraud difficult to distinguish from errors.
Over the past two years, several lawsuits have been filed by former employees of Stronghold Engineering, a large construction company located in Riverside. The three lawsuits each allege that another company, Kadena Pacific, operated from 2006 to 2010, fraudulently claiming service disabled veteran status.
The suits allege that Kadena’s owner, 78-year-old disabled Air Force veteran Freddie Neff, didn’t control the business or run its daily operations. His daughter and son-in-law, Beverley and Scott Bailey, are the owners of Stronghold.
For years, Kadena’s business was located at the same address Stronghold used for a decade before moving to a new address. Kadena worked on several projects in San Diego, including the $3.2 million expansion of the colambarium at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in 2008-09.
Over the years Kadena was awarded about $43 million in contracts, according to government records. In 2010 another company filed a formal protest to the VA, alleging Kadena was a pass-through to Stronghold.
Also in 2010 the SBA determined that Kadena was too big to qualify as a small business, since its revenues exceeded $33 million per year. The company closed in 2012, and Neff has since started a new company in Riverside.
In an interview Neff said the allegations were bogus.
“There is no truth in it,” he said.
He said he worked at the business daily and had little contact with his daughter’s company. The allegations come from a former executive who Neff said was an officer in both Kadena and Stronghold — a link that contributed to the SBA finding.
“We had hardly any interaction between us,” he said. “It’s just baloney.”
Scott Bailey said the allegations are from a “disgruntled former employee” and said the Kadena was always run by his father-in-law. Both he and Neff said the new company, Cal American Construction Inc., is certified by the VA and has no affiliation with Stronghold.
Cal American has won several veterans contracts.
The government’s efforts to help service disabled veterans are coordinated through two separate programs.
One is run by the VA and pertains to all contracts that the agency hands out. Each year, the VA accounts for nearly 30 percent of all government contract awards given out in the service disabled vet preference, according to the GAO.
For all other government agencies, including the Department of Defense, the Small Business Administration is charged with administering veterans preferences.
The law does not require the SBA to verify whether a firm applying for a preference is eligible, and the agency requires no documentation from applicants. Instead, it relies on a “self-certifying” process. Basically that means a business simply says it’s owned and controlled by a service disabled veteran.
So even contracts that the Department of Defense gives out aren’t going to companies that have been verified as legitimate veteran-owned businesses.
That means “without basic checks on firms’ eligibility claims, SBA cannot provide reasonable assurances that legitimate SDVOSB are receiving government contracts,” the GAO concluded in a 2012 report.
The dual programs also have different rules for eligibility, said Steve Koprince, a lawyer and expert on small business contracting with the federal government who follows the service disabled program.
“Some of the requirements for those two programs are similar, but not identical,” he said.”It’s possible to qualify for one program, and not another.”
A bill pending in Congress would strip the VA of the verification authority of businesses and transfer that to the SBA. Not everyone is convinced that is the right thing to do or that it would stem fraud any more effectively.
“There’s been fraud in every small business program,” Denniston said. “You can only write so many rules. People who want to figure out a way around them because they’re bums, are going to find a way around it.”
Special Investigation: Alleged scams persist in VA program for disabled veterans
In 2007, Douglas Fleming, a severely disabled veteran, says he was thrown a life line.
“I never heard of anything, anything that would help veterans change their lives,” Fleming said.
He began participating in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “Veterans First” contracting program through his small construction business, Douglas P. Fleming LLC. The program sets aside government contracts to be awarded only to businesses owned by veterans, with preference to businesses owned by veterans who were disabled in the line of duty.
“I put it in front of a couple other vets and to the man, they said hey, this can change lives. This can change our lives. This gives us hope,” Fleming said.
Fleming says his hope turned to despair when he encountered competition from companies that weren’t controlled by veterans at all. Fleming says one such company is Legion Construction out of Chelmsford, Massachusetts.
Business owner accused of pretending to employ disabled veterans
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —
The American flag flies high over the North Florida Shipyards, but the leader of the Jacksonville-based company was accused of scamming disabled vets and is now forced to pay $1 million to the United States government.
According to a complaint filed by two whistleblowers in 2011, Matt Self, the president of North Florida Shipyards, was facing financial difficulty. They say he asked them to set up a sham company in their names and intended to bid on Coast Guard contracts, reserved by law for small businesses owned by disabled vets.
State Activity Nov 13, 2014
Proposed legislation helps universities find veteran owned businesses
Connecting universities and colleges with veteran-owned businesses is the goal of a proposal introduced in the Illinois House. When universities need to hire a company for any given project, they often have goals intended to help out firms owned by minorities, women and veterans.
Problem is, says Dan Johnson, there’s no central place for business owners to know about these programs; no central place for an owner to find out what certification’s needed to prove her firm qualifies. Johnson, is a lobbyist, who represents the Federation of Women Contractors. He’s pushing a measure he says would help make those connections.
Ga.-based bank launches Veteran Advantage Program
BLAIRSVILLE – United Community Bank (UCB) hopes to make it easier for veterans to get access to capital to start, grow and sustain their own businesses through its new Veteran Advantage program. The program was inspired by a national initiative previously launched by one of the bank’s executives. Through the Veteran Advantage program at United Community Bank, veterans will receive lower upfront guarantee fees and interest rates, and the Small Business Association (SBA) packaging fee will be waived.
Patriotism and profits: Why Michigan companies actively recruit veteran-owned businesses
HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, MI — The American flag Terry Beckering brought home from his tour in Vietnam hangs from the ceiling at Craftwood Industries Inc. His military experience four decades ago remains important to the owner of the small office furniture supplier.
It’s is just as valued by his West Michigan clients: office furniture-makers Steelcase, Herman Miller, Haworth, Trendway and Izzy. Beckering believes the companies’ commitment to working with veteran-owned business like his goes beyond patriotism.
“I think they find in lot of the veterans really good work ethics,” said Beckering. “They pound that into you at basic training.”
Elected officials from across the state have been weighing in on Veterans Day all morning. Below are a few statements.
New plan to encourage veteran owned businesses
HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – There is a new push on Veterans Day to encourage businesses owned by veterans. Lawmakers were at a special event today to launch an unprecedented outreach to Connecticut’s veteran-owned businesses. Secretary of State Denise Merrill announced the new outreach at Winslow Automatics, Inc. in New Britain, which is a metal fabrication manufacturer and supplier to both civilian and military aircraft industries. It is owned by U.S. veteran George Podlasek. As part of the outreach there will be an email blast to more than 120,000 Connecticut businesses, asking those owned by a military veteran to self-identify and directing them to a link for information at the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC). The U.S. Census estimates there may be as many as 31,000 businesses in Connecticut started or owned by military veterans in Connecticut.
Los Angeles transit agency to assist disabled veterans with project bids
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) will launch a program on Nov. 18 to help disabled veterans successfully bid on agency projects. The Disabled Veterans Business Enterprise (DVBE) program establishes a 3 percent contracting goal for all non-federally funded, competitively negotiated contracts for construction, goods or services over $100,000, according to a LACMTA press release.
PG&E Celebrates Veterans Day Every Day
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — One day every year (Nov. 11), America honors those who’ve served in the armed forces.
But at Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), every day is Veterans Day. Throughout the year, PG&E is committed to hire more veterans and to support those already working at the company.
PG&E has shown its backing of veterans in many ways—including helping veteran-owned enterprises work with PG&E, seeking solutions to long-term unemployment among veterans and participating in Veterans Day parades and other community activities.
Locally Owned Business Debuts New Office On Veterans Day
Sioux City, IA (ABC9 News) A locally owned business in Sioux City thanked our nation’s veterans and their loyal customers with an open house on Tuesday.
Schramm electric held a ribbon cutting Tuesday afternoon at their new office on Line Drive.
The company president, Seth Schramm, served in the Navy, and he comes from a long line of veterans. His dad is a Vietnam veteran and his grandfather served in World War II, which is why they chose Veteran’s Day to show off their new office.
State surpasses procurement goal for veteran-owned business contracts
INDIANAPOLIS — Governor Mike Pence announced Monday that the State of Indiana awarded 6.02 percent of its state contracts to Indiana Veterans Business Enterprises (IVBEs), doubling its goal of 3 percent, according to report just released by the Indiana Department of Administration (IDOA). The IDOA awarded a total of $16,686,291 to 62 IVBEs between July 2013 and September 2014.
Governor Pence set a 3 percent state contracting goal with IVBE’s through his Roadmap for Indiana and signed Executive Order 13-04 on his first day in office to establish that goal. Governor Pence signed SEA 564 into law on April 25, 2013, which put that 3 percent goal into statute. More information about the IVBE Program can be found here.
Hardy Stone is the editor/publisher of VetLikeMe, the nation’s only publication devoted to service disabled veteran owned business.