Category Archives: Veterans Affairs

The Next $10 Billion Chapter In The Veterans Administration Health Care Systems Development Saga

Standard

VA New System

Editors’ Note:  The story herein on “FEDSCOOP” announces the latest trip on a decades- long road of efforts by the Veteran’s Administration to connect the  health care systems of the military with those of the VA and establish state of the art records keeping for veterans.  

This sole source, non-competitive, contract award to CERNER,  a commercial firm in lieu of in-house systems development  is a major change in approach from past efforts that have cost billions and led to shut downs and start overs. 

Having seen these types of government systems management challenges from the inside for over 4 decades I find myself sincerely doubting that both the scope and the price tag are final.   For historical perspective, please see: 

A VETERAN CONNECTS THE DOTS IN THE MILITARY AND VETERANS HEALTH CARE SYSTEMS MAZE   

Ken Larson

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“FEDSCOOP”

“The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it has officially signed a contract with Cerner for a new electronic health record (EHR) system.

The inked contract is worth up to $10 billion over 10 years.

“With a contract of that size, you can understand why former Secretary [David] Shulkin and I took some extra time to do our due diligence and make sure the contract does what the President wanted,” acting Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. “President Trump has made very clear to me that he wants this contract to do right by both Veterans and taxpayers, and I can say now without a doubt that it does.”

The new EHR will be “similar” to that used by the Department of Defense, which will allow patient data will be “seamlessly” shared between the two. This has been a major pain point with the Department’s current EHR, the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA.

Wilkie reiterated Shulkin’s comments, from March, that the VA will learn from some of the DOD’s challenges in deploying its new EHR, known as MHS Genesis, and will not fall prey to the same pitfalls, which have plagued early pilots of the system and led to a report calling it “neither operationally effective nor operationally suitable.”

“VA and DoD are collaborating closely to ensure lessons learned at DoD sites will be implemented in future deployments at DoD as well as VA,” Wilkie said. “We appreciate the DoD’s willingness to share its experiences implementing its electronic health record.”

“Signing this contract today is an enormous win for our nation’s Veterans,” Wilkie said. “It puts in place a modern IT system that will support the best possible health care for decades to come. That’s exactly what our nation’s heroes deserve.”

However big an announcement this may be, actual rollout of the new EHR will take time. At an event in January, former VA CIO Scott Blackburn told the crowd to expect another 10 years of VistA.”

https://www.fedscoop.com/va-ehr-cerner-10-billion-robert-wilkie/

 

 

Advertisements

Sweeping $52 Billion Veterans Policy Bill Passed Overwhelmingly In The House

Standard
Veterans Policy Bill

The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, N.M., is shown on July 8, 2016. On Wednesday, House lawmakers passed a nearly $52 billion veterans policy package that includes an overhaul of VA community care programs and an expansion of veteran caregiver stipends. (Russell Contreras/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“Overhauls outside medical care options for Department of Veterans Affairs patients, expands stipends for veteran caregivers and launches a review of the bureaucracy’s national footprint.

Despite the cost of the plan, the measure easily passed the chamber by a vote of 347-70 and has the blessing of the White House. It’s expected to move quickly through the Senate.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

“Lawmakers have until the end of the month to finalize legislation, including new funding for the department’s controversial Choice program or risk disrupting health care for tens of thousands of veterans using the account.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., dismissed concerns from critics about the scope and cost of the measure, particularly charges that the package is part of a slow erosion of VA responsibilities and services.

“Opponents of this bill will tell you, falsely, that it is aimed at eventual privatization of the VA health care system,” he said just before the vote. “That misconception is based on nothing but fear and rhetoric.

“A yes vote is a vote for access, for quality, for choice, for the long-term success and sustainability of the VA health care system, for caregivers and for veterans.”

Among the legislation’s opponents (all Democrats) was the committee’s ranking member, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who voiced concerns that Republicans rejected proposals to exempt the costs from mandatory budget caps scheduled to take effect in coming years.

He also said that implementation of the massive veterans bill will fall to President Donald Trump’s administration, which “has been 40 days without a VA secretary” since the firing of VA Secretary Shulkin two months ago.

** VA Choice and community care

The legislation, dubbed the VA Mission Act, is the culmination of nearly a year of work on the contentious issue of VA community care.

More than one-third of all VA-funded medical appointments last year took place in offices outside the Veterans Health Administration, but administration officials have pushed for more access to private-sector doctors to increase options for veterans facing long waits or travel for federal care.

In 2014, lawmakers passed the VA Choice program with that same idea. The program handles around 30,000 outside medical appointments a day, but has come under fire from conservatives for being too restrictive and bureaucratic for veterans looking for options outside VA.

Last month, acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the Choice program will run out of money by the end of this month. The VA Mission Act include $5.2 billion in bridge funding to keep that program running for another year, until it is consolidated with other department care programs.

That consolidation is expected to simplify and expand the rules for accessing outside care, but still keeping VA officials involved in veterans’ over health care plans.

It requires veterans become eligible for private-sector care options if VA does not provide adequate medical options for patients, including long travel times, long wait times or poor service ratings. It revises payment rates for community care to Medicare rates, to ease concerns about reimbursement for those visits.

It would also authorize two walk-in visits at local private-sector offices for any veterans who have used department health care services in the last two years. Those appointments may require a co-pay.

Critics of the plan — including federal unions — have said the changes are a major step towards privatizing VA health services by shifting billions of dollars from VA accounts to private companies. They’ve also accused the White House of working towards that goal, in an effort to hollow out VA.

But VA officials have defended the idea as modernizing VA operations, and acknowledging that the medical needs of millions of veterans cannot be shouldered by the department alone.

Numerous House Democrats, who in the past have warned about the privatization push, backed the new legislation, saying it strikes the balance between medical access and preserving the department.

** Caregivers and asset review

In order to attract that Democratic support, Republican House leaders added a dramatic expansion of the current VA caregivers stipend to the measure.

The issue has been a top priority of veterans organizations in recent years, since currently only caregivers of veterans from the post-9/11 era are eligible for monthly stipends through the department. The new proposal would expand that to veterans of all eras, first starting with pre-1975 veterans and later phasing in the remaining group over two years.

The obstacle in getting that expansion has been the cost. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than 41,000 caregivers could be added to the program over the next five years, at a cost of nearly $7 billion. But that bill is expected to rise even more in following years.

But the community care overhaul is expected to total more than three times that total by 2023, making it a more palatable concession in the context of the larger legislative package.

The asset review portions of the package resembles the framework of the Defense Department’s base closure and review commissions, although supporters have bristled at the comparison.

Under the plan, the president would establish a nine-member Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission, with representatives from veterans service organizations, the health care industry, and federal facility management.

The panel would meet in 2022 and 2023 to issue recommendations on “the modernization or realignment of Veterans Health Administration facilities.” That could include closing, reducing or expanding a host of VA health facilities across the country.

The cost of that work is unknown. Lawmakers have been reluctant to back new military base closing commissions because of controversies surrounding the 2005 round, which produced disputed savings totals.

But VA officials have repeatedly warned that their current footprint includes hundreds of outdated or obsolete facilities, and department administrators have severe restrictions on managing those locations. Roe said a “politically insulated process” is needed to fix that “massive and misaligned physical footprint” of VA.

The exterior of the Veterans Affairs Department hospital is shown in east Denver on Oct. 4, 2017. On Wednesday, House lawmakers approved a veterans legislative package which includes a review of department medical facilities and an overhaul of VA community care programs. (David Zalubowski/AP)
The exterior of the Veterans Affairs Department hospital is shown in east Denver on Oct. 4, 2017. On Wednesday, House lawmakers approved a veterans legislative package which includes a review of department medical facilities and an overhaul of VA community care programs. (David Zalubowski/AP)

** Veterans support

In advance of the House vote, 38 veterans groups issued a letter of support for the legislation, calling it “a major step towards … making improvements to and investments in the VA health care system, creating integrated networks so that veterans have access to care when and where they need it, and providing the further recognition and assistance to family caregivers of severely disabled veterans deserve.”

The list included the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — all organizations that have repeatedly warned members about the threat of privatization to VA operations.

Denise Rohan, national commander of the American Legion, praised Wednesday’s vote as a critical step forward to “streamline and fund the Department of Veterans Affairs’ many community care programs, expand caregiver benefits to pre-9/11 veterans and their families, and review VA infrastructure holdings.”

The measure also received support from Concerned Veterans for America, which has close ties to the current White House and has argued against the privatization label in recent years.

“The Mission Act would go a long way towards resolving problems with the VA’s existing community care programs and stabilizing the VA’s health care system,” CVA Executive Director Dan Caldwell said in a statement. “We’re also encouraged that the MISSION Act mandates a long-overdue review of the VA’s infrastructure across the country.”

No timetable has been set for when the Senate may vote on the measure, but Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said he hopes to take up the issue “without delay.”

In a gesture to colleagues, lawmakers changed the official name of the legislation to include Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas, and former Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. McCain and Johnson are both former prisoners of war, while Akaka (who died in April) was a longtime veterans advocate in his chamber.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/veterans/2018/05/16/sweeping-veterans-policy-bill-passed-overwhelmingly-in-the-house/

Student Debt Forgiveness for Disabled Veterans

Standard
Vet Student Loans  -  usstudentloancenter dot org.jpg

Image:  usstudent loan center.org

“STARS AND STRIPES”

“Working with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Education will begin identifying eligible veterans who will receive an application for loan forgiveness.

Disabled veterans must sign and return the application to complete the process.”

____________________________________________________________________________________________

“Anyone with a severe disability is eligible by law to have the government discharge their federal student loans, but the benefit has not been widely publicized.

In 2016, the Education Department partnered with the Social Security Administration to identify borrowers receiving disability payments with the specific designation of “Medical Improvement Not Expected,” an indication of discharge eligibility. The agencies found 387,000 matches in its first review, of whom 179,000 were in default on their loans and at risk of having with their Social Security benefits garnished.

That process, however, failed to capture permanently disabled veterans who receive benefits through Veterans Affairs, rather than the Social Security Administration. Although the VA signed an agreement in November 2016 that would have extended the match program to veterans, Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill said the information was never exchanged. Monday’s action seeks to rectify the oversight, much to the delight of veterans groups.

“The Education Department and VA are to be commended for collaborating to make this happen. Interagency data-sharing can solve so many problems, but the agencies have generally been reluctant to break out of their silos,” said Carrie Wofford, president of Veterans Education Success, a nonprofit watchdog and advocacy group. “This is a terrific first step for disabled veterans.”

Wofford said she hopes the collaboration between the agencies will soon result in automatic loan discharges for severely disabled people, eliminating the need for borrowers to apply for a benefit they are due under the law.

Advocacy groups have long called on the federal government to automate disability discharges, but policymakers said they were hamstrung by tax law. For years, the federal government treated the amount of money forgiven through a disability discharge as taxable income.

But the tax overhaul signed into law this year put an end to the government counting as taxable income student debt that is forgiven because of death or disability.

“The excuse that the last administration gave for not automatically discharging the loans — the potential for tax liability — no longer exists. That tax liability was eliminated in tax reform,” said Persis Yu, the National Consumer Law Center’s student loan borrower assistance project director. “Therefore, the Department of Education has no excuse for withholding relief from borrowers it knows to be eligible.”

Education spokeswoman Hill said, “While recent tax changes have removed federal tax implications, there still may be state tax implications associated with discharges that a veteran may consider.”

https://www.stripes.com/news/us/administration-to-streamline-student-debt-forgiveness-for-disabled-veterans-1.522427

 

VA, Postal Inspection Service Spot 2 Scams Targeting Veterans

Standard
Vet Scams - Image veterans adinistration

Image:  Veterans Administration

“FEDERAL NEWS RADIO”

“The Veterans Affairs Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service is warning veterans of two kinds of scams which are specifically targeting former service members.

Fake charities posing as organizations that benefit the veteran population and companies claiming to offer pension buyouts are becoming prevalent and dangerous to this community, VA wrote in a recent blog post.”


“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and non-profit AARP say they are noticing more fake charities using names that sound real and authentic as a ploy to convince veterans to donate. These fraudulent organizations attempt to appeal to a veteran’s sense of duty and honor when soliciting donations.

Most of these “charities” are pocketing the donations for themselves, the agencies said. One scammer operated two fake charities and pocketed the veterans’ donations, then used the personal information written on the checks to steal donors’ identifies and take more cash, according to a VA blog post.”

https://federalnewsradio.com/your-money/2018/04/va-postal-inspection-service-warn-of-2-scams-targeting-veterans/

VA Offering Alternatives To Drugs For Pain, PTSD And Other Ills

Standard
Vets and Tai Chi

Image: Blake Farmer/Nashville Public Radio

Tai Chi, Yoga, Mindfulness Training and Art Therapy

“NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO”

“Zibin Guo guides veterans in wheelchairs through slow-motion tai chi poses as a Bluetooth speaker plays soothing instrumental music.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has given $120,000 in grant money to Guo to spread his special wheelchair tai chi curriculum.”


“Cloudy hands to the right, cloudy hands to the left,” he tells them. “Now we’re going to open your arms, grab the wheels and 180-degree turn.”

The participants swivel about-face and continue to the next pose. Guo, a medical anthropologist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, has modified his tai chi to work from a seated position. Even though many of the participants are not wheelchair-bound, using the mobile chairs makes it easier for them to get through a half-hour of movement.  He started in Chattanooga, and has expanded his class offerings to Murfreesboro.

his idea of going beyond prescriptions — and especially beyond opioids — in dealing with different sorts of pain and trauma has become a focus of the VA nationally.

In Tennessee, nearly a quarter of all VA patients with an active medical prescription were on opioids in 2012. That number is now down to 15 percent, but that’s still higher than in most other parts of the country.

According to a national survey from 2015, nearly every VA hospital now offers some kind of alternative health treatment — like yoga, mindfulness and art therapy.

Guo is teaching people in a half dozen VA hospitals in Florida, Texas, Utah and Arizona to use his version of tai chi. He believes the focus on breathing and mindfulness — paired with manageable physical activity — can help ease a variety of ailments.

“When you have a good amount of body harmony, people tend to engage in proactive life,” he says, “so that helps with all kinds of symptoms.”

In addition to making a vet feel better physically, the VA also hopes these alternative therapies might help ease symptoms of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medical anthropologist Zibin Guo (center) adapted tai chi for people with limited mobility. Though there’s little research evidence confirming that tai chi eases drug cravings or symptoms of post-traumatic stress, the veterans in Guo’s class say the program helps them.

Blake Farmer/Nashville Public Radio

Thomas Sales, of Nashville, Tenn., says his latest panic attack caught him by surprise. “Night before last, when we had the thunderstorm,” he says. “The thunder is a big trigger for some people.”

It’s been 25 years after Sales fought in the first Gulf War with the Navy Special Warfare Command, and he still has panic attacks regularly.

“You’ll find yourself flashing back to being out there with the fellas, and you’ll just kind of snap,” he says. “And I found myself, for some reason, thinking about doing the breathing techniques [from tai chi], and doing the ‘heaven and earth,’ and then breathing deep and slow.”

Sales says he knows it must look crazy to some people when he reaches to the sky and then sweeps his arms to the ground. There was a time when he would have agreed. Most of the patients in this class had some skepticism going into the tai chi program. But Vietnam veteran Jim Berry of Spring Hill, Tenn., says he’s now convinced of its value.

“My daughter sent me a t-shirt that sums it up,” he says. “Tai chi is more than old folks chasing trees.”

Berry credits meditation and tai chi with helping him quit smoking. “No cigarettes for three months now,” he says.

Zarita Croney, a veteran with the National Guard, says tai chi has helped her with chemical dependency. She now makes the nearly two-hour drive from Hopkinsville, Ky., to Murfreesboro each week, and has reduced her use of pills for pain.

“My whole life … revolved around, ‘Oh shoot, when can I take my next pill?’ ” Croney recalls. “I’ve gone from about 90 percent of my day being on my bed to being able to come out and be social.”

The VA has been aggressively trying to wean vets off high-powered opioids — using prescription data as a key measurement to judge how its hospitals across the country are doing with that goal.

The VA acknowledges that there’s little evidence at this point that tai chi or mindfulness therapy or acupuncture will ease PTSD or addiction, though recently there has been research into the quality of life benefits of tai chi among the elderly.

But physicians say they suspect many of the opioisa aren’t always helping veterans either, and the drugs carry more risks.

Aaron Grobengieser, who oversees alternative medicine at the VA hospital in Murfreesboro, says tai chi won’t replace medication. But it might help reduce prescriptions, and the agency plans to start measuring that.

“I believe this is going to be an avenue,” he says, “to really help address that group of folks [who are] looking for ways to manage those types of conditions without popping another pill.”

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/04/02/594914429/to-treat-pain-ptsd-and-other-ills-some-vets-try-tai-chi

 

 

15 Years Later, Iraq Vets In Congress Worry Lawmakers Learned Little From The War

Standard

 

Senator Tammy Duckworth

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, arrives for a vote at the Capitol on Jan. 24, 2018. On Tuesday, the 15-year anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, Duckworth said she worries that Congress still doesn’t take its role overseeing military operations seriously enough. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

“MILITARY TIMES”

“There is an understanding on both sides of the aisle that Congress is failing,” Duckworth said. “(Our troops) keep redeploying and redeploying and redeploying. Now they’re in Afghanistan, now they’re in Iraq, now they’re in Africa, now they’re in Syria.

“They keep showing up and we’re not doing our jobs. We’re too afraid to have this discussion, and turning it all over to the executive branch. We did it under President Obama and we’re doing it under the present administration. And that’s not acceptable.”


“Fifteen years after the start of the Iraq war, Sen. Tammy Duckworth is worried that Congress didn’t learn anything from the controversial conflict.

“We just added Niger as a combat zone for combat pay. We’re talking about troops in Syria permanently,” said Duckworth, D-Illinois, who lost both legs while serving as an Army National Guard helicopter pilot in Iraq in 2004.

“That to me is a very dangerous position to be in. I don’t feel like overall Congress has learned a lesson, and I think most people would just rather keep their head down and not have a vote.”

Duckworth and fellow Iraq war veteran Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., spoke to reporters on the anniversary of the start of that conflict Tuesday to again push for a new authorization for the use of military force for a host of current overseas military missions.

The justifications for military intervention in the Middle East, Africa and other conflict zones still rely on the war powers granted by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. For years, Duckworth and Gallego (along with other Democrats and Republicans) have argued in favor of an updated, more limited military force authorization measure, but a compromise remains elusive.

Earlier in the day, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said his panel will mark up a new authorization proposal on April 19.

“When we go into new countries, when we take on new groups, the Senate would have the ability to weigh in on those issues,” he said during a floor speech. “So I just would like to say to the body and those who are looking in, we are not shying away from this debate.”

But Duckworth and Gallego said lawmakers largely have avoided those difficult conversations on military roles and responsibilities, allowing the White House to make those decisions largely unchecked.

“We’re seeing a military that is expected to engage long-term on multiple fronts. We’re seeing a military that has not been funded in terms of readiness,” Duckworth said. “And we’re adding what we’re expecting them to do.

“We’re talking about Africa. We’re talking about Korea. If we want to have the military engage in a 15-year commitment on three fronts … let’s have that conversation.”

Gallego said he believes that after nearly 18 years of continuous military operations overseas, lawmakers have “a better understanding of how military adventurism can go wrong,” and the strain that puts on military families.

“But we’re not doing anything about it,” he said. “It’s the best of both worlds. We don’t have to take a tough vote, and the military gets to do what they want because the operate under this old authorization. Democrats are just as responsible for this as Republicans.”

Both lawmakers said they were encouraged by increased debate in the House last year pushing for a new war authorization, but said the work is still moving too slow. They’re hopeful that as more young combat veterans enter Congress (42 current lawmakers served in the Iraq and Afghanistan War era) those issues will take more prominence.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2018/03/21/15-years-later-iraq-vets-in-congress-worry-lawmakers-learned-little-from-the-war/

 

 

Things Veterans Could Get For The Price Of A Parade

Standard
Homeless Vet Marketwatch dot com

Image: Marketwatch.com

“TASK AND PURPOSE”

“Instead of sending service members out into the streets…………… consider helping homeless veterans off of them.

Even the parade’s uber-thrifty low-end price projection, $10 million, is enough to give thousands of struggling veterans a “thank you” that really means something.”


“A Department of Defense memo sent to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford of March 9 laid out the plans for a sprawling military parade in Washington, D.C. for Veterans Day on November 11th, 2018. In addition to requiring active-duty service-members to cram into their dress uniforms and stand by to stand by to stand by for hours on end, the parade would have a whopping price tag of somewhere between $10 and $30 million, according to the White House.

This is a puzzling proposition — and not just because the last time the U.S. enjoyed a military parade was after our last actual victory, following the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991. Indeed, planning the big, fanfare-swaddled spend for Veterans Day seems like something of an insult to the estimated 40,056 veterans who are homeless on any given night, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimates.

Here’s what else that marching-around money could do:

Feed America’s Homeless Veterans For a Month

As Newsweek points out, the average cost of a single hot meal in the U.S. clocks in at $2.94 (although it can jump as high as $5.61, depending on where you live). That comes out to more than 3.4 million hot meals, or 84 square feasts for each homeless veteran in the U.S. — enough to feed each hungry ex-warfighter three times a day for 28.3 days. I’m not sure about you, but I’d take eating for a month over a dumb parade any day.

Give Vets Some  Rent Money

Rental assistance currently helps more than 340,000 veterans to afford decent housing — and, according to a 2014 report, has reduced veteran homelessness by 33% since 2010. But that housing assistance has been imperiled in recent months: In December, Politico reported that the VA planned to divert $460 million specifically set aside for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program, which provides vets with housing vouchers. (The VA officially did an about-face on that plan in February after a public outcry, but the department’s initial thinking suggests those funds are negotiable.)

Forking over $10 million in erstwhile parade money could help. A landlord of a single HUD-VASH voucher recipient in, say, New York City, could expect to see $1,256 a month, with up to $1,500 in one-time incentives for choosing a vet over another Section 8 applicant. Heck, that’s enough to put roughly 3,600 vets up in the Big Apple for a month — long enough to get sweet jobs blogging with us!

Give major homeless Vet Centers a Big Fat Endowment

There are a 30 VA-funded Community Resource and Referral Centers (CRRCs) across the country that offer services related to health and mental health care, housing support, career assistance, and access to benefits for homeless veterans. And they’re essential: 29,000 vets received assistance through CRRCs in 2015, according to VA data.

A nice fat $330,000 check for each facility could do a lot of long-term good — especially if the money, say, funds endowments to allow each center to further expand, regardless of future budget woes in Washington. Why the VA doesn’t have its own endowment boggles the mind, unless it’s because the next war will be fought by pointy-headed Harvard intellectuals. (Just kidding; they plan the wars; they don’t fight em.)”

https://taskandpurpose.com/trump-parade-cost-veterans-services/

 

 

 

 

 

Business Incubator Aims To Help Small Firms Win Government Work

Standard
Businessman Carrying A Briefcase And Coming Out Of An Eggshell Clipart Illustration Image

Image: townhall.folsom203

“THE WASHINGTON POST”

“Despite an array of new set-aside programs meant to give small firms an advantage, the number of small companies holding primary government contracts has shrunk substantially since 2010.

OST founders Olessia Smotrova and David Huff say insider knowledge — and not resources — is the main thing that keeps small firms out of the market. “It literally is the divide between those who know what to do and those that don’t,” Smotrova said.”


“Business incubators have been all the rage in the D.C. area in recent years, as local leaders try to step beyond the region’s dependence on federal money. But the area’s newest incubator is taking a different approach: doubling down on federal contracts while trying to open that market to a more diverse group of people.

To help small businesses grow and compete for government work, a Rockville, Md.-based consulting business called OST Global Solutions is starting an incubator focused on helping its members scale within the federal market.

Members can go through the program remotely or co-work at OST’s offices, paying between $275 and $695 a month. The coursework focuses on the nuts and bolts of following government bid proposals and keeping government decision-makers happy, as well as the intangible aspects of entre­pre­neur­ship and business management.

The secret to their work, Smotrova says, is getting members to hold themselves to ambitious growth metrics by constantly competing for new work. Too often government contractors are content to rest on their laurels once they win a contract, she says.

“A lot of government contractors don’t have that sense of urgency to fill their pipeline,” Smotrova says.

The program commits members to an ambitious growth path of 400 or 500 percent, and gives them customized goals they must reach before they can graduate.

“We can diagnose where they are failing and why they are failing,” Smotrova said.

One of the first members to opt for the co-working program is Virginia-based VG Systems LLC, an eight-person IT firm that brings in between $1.5 million and $2 million a year in revenue.

Chief executive Thomas Perry says he’s hoping OST can help him get a more stable stream of income. The company’s earnings can vary widely based on what work is available.

“It’s been a wild roller coaster,” Perry said. “The reason we’re trying to go through the incubator is we’re trying to make that a little more of a smooth upward growth curve.”

Small businesses that are working in the federal space usually do so with the help of official “set-aside” programs designed to give such firms an advantage.

One is Ogden, Utah-based Wynsor LLC, a 10-person firm that makes a steady business of decontaminating old uranium mines, among other environmentally oriented work for the federal government.

Lea Ann Rodriquez founded Wynsor in 2007 while she was still working at the Idaho National Laboratory, which she left in 2009. Today her firm is working on uranium mines in Oklahoma and Washington state, and also holds a contract to decontaminate respirator machines at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

It took her three years to get through the paperwork required for the Small Business Association’s 8a small disadvantaged business certification program, which gives her an automatic leg up on certain federal contracts.

But the market is getting more competitive, even among the small businesses that qualify for set-asides. And her advantage under that program expires in 2021 when the eight-year program times out.

She wants to keep her company after 2021, but to do so she’ll have to grow before the company “graduates” and loses its certification under that program. She’s hoping OST can teach her how to compete for work without having the help of a set-aside program.

“A lot of [8a program participants] graduate and their sales just plummet,” Rodriquez says.

Others joining the incubator are leveraging deep connections to the U.S. military. One is Gib Godwin, a former two-star Navy rear admiral who runs a consulting firm.

Godwin retired from the Navy in 2006 and briefly worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Northrop Grumman before setting off on his own. His company, BriteWerx LLC, competes for federal work under a set-aside program for service-disabled veterans.

His only full-time employee is his daughter, who holds the title of chief financial officer. Their small partnership takes in between $850,000 and $950,000 each year in revenue, most of it through a single Navy contract the firm received through a sole-sourced award.

As a former Navy officer, there are certain lines he can’t cross. He has a lifetime ban against winning large contracts related to the F-18 Hornet and F/A 18 Super Hornet fighter planes, for example, because he served as a chief engineer on those programs while in the Navy. He has similar limitations on certain Navy and Marine Corps IT systems.

But his rank has mostly helped the business, he says.

“My flag officer network has been a huge help,” Godwin said. “Because of what you’ve done before, you can get a meeting without crawling through broken glass on your belly.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/business-incubator-aims-to-help-small-firms-win-government-work/2018/01/20/424fb02e-fd53-11e7-8f66-2df0b94bb98a_story.html?utm_term=.3bd6fe4b8ae8

 

 

State and Federal Officials Accuse Veterans Nonprofit of Misleading Donors

Standard

 

Brian Arthur Hampton, leader of the Put Vets First! Political Action Committee Put Vets First! PAC website. Hampton earned $340,000 in 2016 from his two veterans charities

“THE CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY”

“Virginia’s attorney general has launched an investigation into a veterans charity that allegedly misled donors by spending millions of dollars on telemarketing and salaries rather than on veterans.

Separately, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., on Wednesday asked the leaders of two U.S. House committees to launch an investigation into “bad actors” who mislead donors and enrich themselves in the name of military veterans.”


“The Falls Church, Virginia-based Center for American Homeless Veterans received a “civil investigative demand” for documents from Attorney General Mark Herring’s office in late December, according to documents reviewed this week by the Center for Public Integrity.

The attorney general’s actions came just two weeks after publication of a Center for Public Integrity investigation into the Center for American Homeless Veterans and its founder, Brian Arthur Hampton.

“Congress should not sit on the sidelines while unscrupulous individuals abuse their tax-exempt status, fleece donors and take advantage of the men and women who have served our great nation and their families,” Jones wrote in a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Committee representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Along with the Center for American Homeless Veterans, Hampton runs the nonprofit Circle of Friends for American Veterans and the Put Vets First! Political Action Committee out of the same office.

All three groups use telemarketers to raise millions of dollars, but hardly any of this money is spent on programs for veterans, according to federal tax filings and Federal Election Commission disclosures.

Hampton denies wrongdoing and has said in the past that contracting with professional fundraisers frees up his time to focus on outreach.

But in its “civil investigative demand,” Herring’s office alleges that Hampton’s Center for American Homeless Veterans “has engaged in misleading donors to believe funds would be used for veterans-assistance programs and organizations, when funds were not used for those purposes.”

Michael Kelly, spokesman for Herring, confirmed his office is investigating the Center for American Homeless Veterans but declined to answer specific questions about the probe.

“Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to crack down on financial exploitation of veterans and fraudulent charities, as evidenced by his work with colleagues to shut down the deceptive “VietNow” charity, and the record-setting $100 million settlement his team secured against USA Discounters for deceptive sales and debt collection practices,” Kelly said in an emailed statement.

Hampton said he is cooperating with the investigation.

“We have the program goods and are always enthusiastic about sharing all the documents,” Hampton wrote in an emailed statement. “We do what we say we are going to do and a great deal more.”

Hampton has personally benefited from his trio of veterans organizations.

During 2017, he made $110,00 from the PAC, boosting his income from the PAC to $20,350 in December alone, according to federal records.

Hampton also earned $340,000 in 2016 from his two veterans charities, according to the most recent tax filings available. It’s not yet known how much Hampton earned from his charities during 2017.

Hampton defended his compensation, noting that he has “24 years of tenure” and is the head of three organizations.

During the 2014 and 2015 tax years, a telemarketer hired by the Center for American Homeless Veterans, Outreach Calling, kept $3.7 million — or 90 percent — of the $4.1 million it raised for the nonprofit, according to annual tax filings.

Records filed by Outreach Calling in Utah indicate the telemarketer kept $7.9 million out of $8.7 million it raised for the charity from 2011 to 2015.

Similarly, Hampton’s other nonprofit and his PAC have spent most of the money they’ve raised on telemarketers.

Since 2015, Outreach Calling has raked in $2 million from the Put Vets First! PAC. That’s 89 percent of the $2.3 million in donations the PAC has received in the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Charitable Resource Foundation, the telemarketer working for Hampton’s Circle of Friends for American Veterans, kept $6.4 million, or 85 percent, of the $7.5 million it raised from donors between the 2011 and 2015 tax years, according to IRS filings.

Charity Navigator, a watchdog organization that studies the spending habits of charities, issued “concern advisories” for Hampton’s two nonprofits after the Center for Public Integrity published its initial investigation in December.”

https://www.publicintegrity.org/2018/02/15/21569/state-and-federal-officials-accuse-veterans-nonprofit-misleading-donors

 

 

Military Veterans Come Together For Iraqi & Afghan Refugees In Colorado

Standard
vets for refugees

(credit: Maytham Alshadood)

“CBS DENVER”

 “Some military veterans are coming together for Iraqis and Afghans who put their lives on the line to help as translators in the Middle East.

The vets are fighting for a bill at the state capitol that would grant in-state college tuition to refugees, including foreign nationals from Afghanistan and Iraq who helped interpret for U.S. soldiers and diplomats.”


“Maytham Alshadood is one of those translators. In 2005, he risked his life and the lives of his family members to be an interpreter for the U.S. military in Baghdad.

tuition for refugees 5pkg transfer frame 612 Military Veterans Come Together For Iraqi & Afghan Refugees In Colorado

CBS4’s Shaun Boyd interviews Maytham Alshadood. (credit: CBS)

“It is really dangerous for us to do that work because we were targeted by insurgents and we were labeled as traitors,” he said.

In return for his service, he received a special immigrant visa that brought him to Colorado, where veterans receive in-state college tuition. But Alshadood – who fought side-by-side with American soldiers for nearly three years – was told he wasn’t a veteran nor a Coloradan.

“I fought for this country and, because of that work, my life was in danger, and I had to uproot from my home country and to a place I would call home and when I go to apply for school, they tell me I’m an out-of-state student,” he said.

tuition for refugees 5pkg transfer frame 312 Military Veterans Come Together For Iraqi & Afghan Refugees In Colorado

Travis Weiner and Maytham Alshadood (credit: CBS)

Army veteran Travis Weiner says Alshadood is as much a veteran as he is.

“These folks sweat, bled and died along side us, in many cases saving lives,” he said.

Weiner, a member of Vets for American Ideals, joined other veterans at the capitol to testify in favor of a bill that would make refugees like Alshadood eligible for in-state tuition without waiting a year to establish residency.

tuition for refugees 5pkg transfer frame 1522 Military Veterans Come Together For Iraqi & Afghan Refugees In Colorado

Travis Weiner (credit: CBS)

As veterans, members of the military, we never leave anyone behind – it’s kind of our creed – and these folks are being left behind,” said Weiner.

Bill sponsor, Sen. Steve Fenberg, says his bill is about human rights, noting that all of the refugees have been extensively vetted and many are qualified for jobs here, but are lacking a degree.

“I think it’s important that we give them the opportunity to pursue a degree just like every other Coloradan because that’s what they are, legally settled in the state of Colorado by the federal government,” Fenberg said.

tuition for refugees 5pkg transfer frame 2536 Military Veterans Come Together For Iraqi & Afghan Refugees In Colorado

Travis Weiner and Maytham Alshadood (credit: CBS)

Alshadood is a U.S. citizen today and a transplant nurse at UniversityHospital.

“We always work against resistance, but with persistence we’ll get somewhere,” he said.

The bill passed its first committee unanimously Monday night.

About 17,000 refugees have been placed in Colorado over the last 12 years.”

Vets Helping