“In February 2018, one of our nation’s best and brightest chose a path that too many of our military leaders take after they leave the service.
Cmdr. John Scott Hannon, who had a distinguished career in U.S. Special Operations Command and as a leader of SEAL Team Two, took his own life.
I never had the privilege of meeting this patriot, but as a Navy combat veteran who served during the Vietnam War, I am proud to have served in a branch that produces such fine men as Hannon. This nation is equally proud of his record of service in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
As a former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, I am especially troubled by his passing, and I remain concerned about the ongoing tragedy of veteran suicide.
Fortunately, before he left us, Hannon laid out a path this country would do well to explore in order to end this tragedy once and for all. He found comfort in working to improve the mental health of other veterans, even as he was working on his own recovery.
What he was trying to do was rebuild connections between veterans and their communities that can help heal the terrible wounds our men and women sometimes suffer as they defend this nation. And I am pleased to see an attempt to follow the advice Hannon left behind, which has the potential to save thousands of veterans and spare their families a grief that no family should have to bear.
This legislation is a bipartisan push to implement many of the best ideas about recovery, connection and community. It would establish a new grant program that would let the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) fund community organizations across America that can work to identify at-risk veterans and promote early intervention at the ground level.
It would expand veterans’ access to alternative care programs and provide grants to non-VA organizations that provide mental health services.
It would give guardsmen and reservists access to VA Vet Centers in their communities for mental health screening, counseling and other services.
And it would boost the care that many veterans seek at VA, by ensuring every VA hospital has at least one suicide prevention coordinator on staff, increasing VA research on mental health, and increasing capacity for telehealth services to reach rural veterans.
That means we need to reach beyond VA and work closely with organizations that can reach veterans where they live, and the Senate bill does just that.
Anyone who has led the VA knows that one of our toughest challenges is making sure veterans return all the way home to a country that loves them and respects their service.
The Senate’s passage of this bill is a much-needed step in the right direction that will give more organizations the tools to help, not just VA. I urge House leaders to pass it quickly so all of America can get to work and help our veterans in need.”
“Results from this survey will be used to improve the education benefits program based on direct feedback from respondents, according to the VA. The VSignals survey is 5 to 7 questions long and takes about three minutes to complete.“
“The Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new survey to gauge veterans’ experiences with education benefits.
The survey, which will be distributed through the department’s Veterans Signals, or VSignals, program will be emailed to a random selection of veterans or beneficiaries who have recently taken part in the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) education program.
The new survey was designed with the help of beneficiaries to improve veterans’ experiences with the program, which provides education benefits to over 900,000 veterans each year, according to the VA. The survey will assess veterans’ experiences in one of three aspects of the education benefits program: applying for benefits, enrolling in school or receiving education benefits through VBA.
“The surveys give beneficiaries an opportunity to provide direct feedback on VA’s performance. We are constantly searching for ways to better serve the nation’s veterans,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a press release.
The VSignals program has surveyed about 28.8 million people since June 2017 and uses veterans’ and beneficiaries’ feedback to improve its services where needed, according to the VBA.”
This article will suggest factors to consider in determining if the time is right for you to form a small business federal government contracting company. 1. EXPERIENCE
Small business federal government contracting is not rocket science – to succeed one must take what one does well in the commercial marketplace or what experience leads one to believe one can plan successfully as a commercial enterprise and then apply it in a slightly different manner from a business perspective to accommodate federal government contracting requirements.
Very few companies enter federal government contracting without some commercial experience and success or prior professional employment. Very few start ups entertain initially contracting exclusively to the federal government without commercial work or other employment to sustain operations while the more lengthy government procurement process is being pursued. http://www.smalltofeds.com/2009/10/introducing-federal-government.html
There is often confusion regarding the definition of the term, “Contractor” in government work. The term is used in a conflicting manner to describe companies, individuals and business relationships. It has different connotations within corporations as opposed to government agencies, and is often confused with terms like “Subcontractor”, “Supplier” or “Vendor”.
The article linked below defines the term, “Contractor” and discusses the regulatory factors and practical considerations related to use of the term from a small business federal government contracting perspective: http://www.smalltofeds.com/2010/07/what-is-small-business-federal.html
Consider carefully a product or service area in which you have experience and talent as well as for which there is a demand. Make it in a field in which you would enjoy a long term involvement. Then give your small business company concept the following test:
1. Do you have a product or service niche in mind?
2. Do you believe you have a market for 1 above and the means to reach it?
3. Are you willing to develop a business plan using the tool kit linked below to validate 1 and 2 above before you launch?
If the answer to the above questions is “Yes”, take the actions indicated above, observe the results, and make an informed decision on whether or not to proceed.
Executing the below process establishes the firm officially on paper and commits the owner(s) to the enterprise:
For the majority of individuals who are starting single person or no more than 2 or 3 person operations, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) registered with the state and with the federal government is recommended.
It will separate personal assets from company assets and protect them. When product or services sales begin generating revenue an LLC has many tax advantages. It can be registered as Sub Chapter ‘S’ for tax purposes and revenue and the expenses can be passed through to personal tax returns, paying no taxes as a company. The double taxation issue prevalent with many of the other types of incorporation is avoided with a Sub chapter “S” LLC. An LLC assists in limits your personal liability for debt and court judgments that may not fall in your favor.
Representing the business as a company allows pursuing financing as an enterprise. You can think of a creative name for your LLC and you can complete the articles of incorporation necessary to bring your enterprise into existence. The term, “LLC” must conclude the name of your company if you decide to form such an organization.
Free instructions for registering in your state and federally with the IRS are available at the second, vertical, Box Net “References” cube in the left margin of the sites referenced above. You will receive tax and employer identification numbers by registering your business.
A very common mistake is not generating and executing an operating agreement among the founders of there is more than one person involved in forming the company. An operating agreement, is a separate document, not controlled or required by the state or the federal government, but very important to your company.
It should be a simple, straightforward document you and the prospective partner(s) can draft yourselves addressing such matters as % of ownership, how revenue will be distributed and other general matters, as well as who can commit the company in the form of credit cards, employment offers and who signs checks on the company account and other administrative matters. Buying out a partner should also be covered as well as adding new members if the need arises down the road.
I have seen many enterprises fail or go through terrifically hard times due to lack of an operating agreement. The parties should sign it after a review by a lawyer. It should then be notarized and made an official part of the company file. You can download a generic operating agreement at the second, vertical, Box Net “References” cube in the left margin of the sites linked above. It is for an LLC but you could modify it for other types of corporations. You can feel free to borrow from the sample or supplement it as you see fit. It is fairly comprehensive in order to cover most business situations and there may be elements of the example you feel are not necessary.
You will not be able to go it alone.
Evolving niches and industry teaming leading to larger projects as part of multiple company efforts is a necessity in forming a small government contracting business, particularly in the services venue.
Synergism is paramount in teaming with any size company, whether in a lead or subcontracting role. There should be technical, management and market segment similarities between you and any company with whom you are considering teaming. Your prospective team member ideally will not be a direct competitor; rather a business in a related field with whom you share a mutual need for each other’s contributions in pursuing large-scale projects.
Relationships must be developed with primes and other small businesses that can help you, team with you and keep you in mind as they search for success. That takes time, patience and open-minded, out of the box thinking. It also takes more than a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), a teaming agreement (TA) and a proposal to succeed. It takes dynamic marketing and communication with strong partners and hard, innovative work. Nice buzz words you say – but it is the truth and you have to find what that truth means to you.
Carefully consider the 5 factors noted above when evaluating the formation of a small business government contracting company. For additional details on any of the factors, please see the free book at this site:
“Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said.“
“However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
“If you’re a veteran who wants to be your own boss, it may not be obvious how to get started. Here’s what they told us:
1. Take advantage of the help available to you
Vets who want to start their own businesses can run into a unique problem: There are so many programs and resources out there to help, they may not know where to start.
Misty Stutsman, director of entrepreneurship at Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, said there are several hundred programs developed to help vets start their own businesses.
“There’s a huge navigation issue that veterans are now facing,” she said. “With all of those resources, you can kind of spin your wheels.”
Stutsman suggested that vets start by finding local groups and resources, as well as consulting their network of fellow vets to see what groups they found most helpful.
The military’s transition assistance program, or TAP, includes a section focused on entrepreneurship called Boots to Business, which can help vets learn the basics of entrepreneurship and get a grasp on the support programs available to them. Vets who have already separated from the military can get a version of this training by signing up for its sister program, Boots to Business Reboot.
“SBA has this amazing myriad of resources,” Stutsman said.
Larry Stubblefield, associate administrator for SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development, said his organization can help veterans find mentors, navigate lenders, learn how to market themselves and much more.
“We have 22 Veterans Business Outreach Centers located around the country,” Stubblefield said. “They’re like a one-stop shop for transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses.”
And the cost is already covered by your tax dollars, typically.
“The vast majority of our resources are free to the recipient.”
3. Find a mentor
“The folks who go out and connect … you’re much more likely to be successful than going at it alone,” Stubblefield said. “Entrepreneurship is definitely a team sport.”
If you know fellow vets who started their own businesses, reach out and ask them for advice. If you don’t, look into the SCORE program, a volunteer initiative associated with SBA that helps vets find business mentors.
“SCORE’s been around 56 years, now, and it’s what is called a resource partner of the SBA,” said Jay Gladney, a certified SCORE mentor. “We actually extend their … personnel resources to allow them to better serve SBA clients.”
SCORE connects budding entrepreneurs with mentors who have successfully grown their own businesses, often in the same field. The mentors can help budding entrepreneurs hone their ideas, improve their pitches to lenders and plan for growth and next steps.
“There are very few brand-new ideas out there,” Gladney said.
But the fact that someone has probably already tried your business idea in some form can work to your advantage – it gives you the opportunity to learn from their successes and failures.
“Learn as much as you can about the industry, the product and the service that you’re going into, so that you’re going in with a much better possibility of success,” Gladney said.
Gladney and other entrepreneurship experts told Military Times that it is important to make sure that your idea has enough target consumers who are eager to buy what you’re trying to sell. This probably means doing more than just asking your friends and family what they think.
Gladney suggested that entrepreneurs create surveys using free online tools to help them better understand what the consumers they’re targeting really want.
“You can actually create a small survey to ask people about what it is that you’re creating, whether they would be interested in buying that, and even ask them the price points,” he said.
5. Build a business plan
You’ve surely heard that you need to make a business plan before you launch your own company. But what exactly is a business plan?
You should be making a “fairly robust document” in the range of 15 to 20 pages, Gladney said. And it’s important that you physically write it out, rather than just having a vague sense of it in your head.
“Getting it written down is important, because it forces them to be specific and to make it make sense,” he said.
Ask your network of mentors and advisors to help.
And once you write the plan down, it doesn’t become an infallible document that should never be changed again, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.
“A business plan becomes a living document,” she said. “ It’s not something that’s set in stone.”
Stutsman said that business owners should go back to their mentors and advisors, even long after getting their businesses off the ground, for advice and help adjusting their business plans to meet changing conditions.
6. Figure out financing
Launching a business will require money. Depending on your business, it could be a lot, or it could be a relatively modest amount. But regardless, you’re probably going to need to find a lender.
One of the first things that any lender will want to see is a business plan and market research that shows that your idea is viable.
“Lenders are going to be looking at that,” said SBA’s Stubblefield. “They’re not just going to, you know, hand you money.”
Even once you have all that material together, chances are that you’ll still have a hard time getting a loan by just walking into your nearest bank.
“Banks are generally a little difficult for startups,” said SCORE’s Gladney. “There’s no track record for success of the business for a startup, and so therefore the bank has less data on which to evaluate the risk that they’re taking.”
Another great resource is the SBA’s Lender Match program. Just fill out some forms online and the service connects you with possible funding sources, all of which have been approved by the SBA.
7. Talk with your family
Your personal and family finances – credit scores, debt, collateral, etc. – will affect your ability to get a business loan, Gladney said.
And of course, the inverse is true as well: Whether your business succeeds or fails will have a big impact on your family’s financial situation. So starting your own business needs to be a family decision.
“You absolutely must have … partner/family buy-in, or you’re doomed to fail,” said Janet Harris, director of recruitment for Dream Vacations, a franchise brand that helps entrepreneurs launch their own travel businesses.
One way to minimize your personal financial risk is to start slow, said Stutsman of Syracuse’s IVMF.
“Don’t quit your day job … Don’t cash out your 401k on an idea,” she said. “It’ll take a while to get to cash flow. It’ll take a while until you can take an income without hurting your company.”
In addition, Gladney recommended setting up a separate legal structure for your company, such as an LLC, so that the company bears more of the financial risk, not you. But even if you take all these steps, starting your own business is still a big risk.
“You have to assume the risk if you want the reward,” Gladney said.
8. Consider franchising
Starting a business from scratch will require you to do marketing, accounting, website building and much more. Are you an expert in all of those areas? Are you ready to pay someone else to help?
If not, franchising might be a great option.
“If you have a franchise, it’s like a box with a big bow on top,” said Janet Harris of Dream Vacations. Inside that box, you’ll find marketing, accounting, training and other help.
Of course, that help comes with extra cost.
SBA’s Stubblefield said that while franchisees can typically expect “a lot of support from corporate headquarters,” they are also likely to have much steeper startup costs.
Franchisees also typically have monthly franchise fees, or royalties, marketing expenses, material costs and other ongoing expenses.
That said, the franchise system is often a very good fit for veterans, Harris said.
“Franchising is a road map, so you follow that road map to success, which is also what … men and women in the military do,” she said. “That makes them very comfortable, and it also gives them more confidence.”
VetFran, a branch of the International Franchise Association, has online advice and resources for veterans interested in franchising.”
“Everyone wants the best for the members of our military coming home after years of service, fighting for our country. But so many of these wonderful, courageous and giving people come back and have MAJOR struggles — that often don’t seem to be well-addressed. Just look at the suicide rate! Of the 245,000 veterans who return home every year, at least 20 commit suicide every day. That’s an alarming and heartbreaking statistic that needs to change.
Two people who are working to make this transition between military and civilian life much less stressful and much more successful are Alignable Power Users Julie and CJ Niehoff. They founded and now run an incredible organization called SkillsAfterService.com, and they’re the stars of Casto’s Closeup, Episode 7.
Julie and CJ coach former members of the military on everything from the language that’s used in Corporate America or Entrepreneurial America, to the best ways to present themselves in interviews to demonstrate how their many skills can translate well to different job opportunities. Ultimately, they want to help veterans to find a purpose they can be proud of in their next job — a purpose that helps them to fully embrace this chapter of their lives.
CJ and Julie also show former soldiers how to create their own business and then grow it, if they want to go the entrepreneurial route.
In our video, we dig deep to explore many of the struggles former soldiers experience — and the solutions CJ and Julie have found to help them.
We learn that of the 245,000 soldiers each year that leave the military, a good two-thirds of them are affected by Transition Stress. In fact, this is much more common among veterans than PTSD is, though very few media outlets have reported on Transition Stress. This immense stress can sideline many wonderful, talented veterans, leading to everything from general aimlessness and depression to suicide.
But the good news is that the compassionate, but goal-oriented SkillsAfterService.com programs are designed to help combat Transition Stress and channel the skills and approaches needed to find or create meaningful work in the civilian world.
If you have a friend or loved one who is about to leave the military, or has left already and doesn’t know what to do next, please go to SkillsAfterService.com’s Alignable Profile. Any former member of the military would be in great hands with CJ and Julie.
We hope you enjoy this very topical episode. Please feel free to share it widely.
Also, for any veterans reading this story, please be sure to add our new veteran-owned business tag to your profile.
After the majority of our veterans tag their profiles, all you’ll need to do is press that tag to see who else served in the military. Then you’ll have an instant community to connect with — as business contacts, as well as new friends who share a common bond.
The table of contents below reflects free small business federal government contracting books and reference materials. You may download the book, SmallBusiness Federal Government Contracting and its supplement from the “Box” in the right margin of http://www.smalltofeds.com. Blue topic titles are the basic book and red topics are contained in the Supplement.
Use the links beneath the table to access more recent articles since the publication of the book and the supplement.
You may also benefit from the free “Reference Materials” in the second, vertical “Box” in the left margin of the site. Contract agreements, incorporation instructions for all the US states, guidance on marketing and business planning are all included.
Other books by Ken available as free downloads in the “Box” include:
“A Veteran’s Photo/Poetry Journal of Recovery
From Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ”
“Odyssey of Armaments” My Journey Through the Defense Industrial Complex”
“Expectations and Reality are Far Apart on Both Sides of the Employment Spectrum. Aside from the legal and moral obligations to employ returning veterans, there is a third, vital challenge in the employment transition equation: understanding the vast difference between the military and civilian work environments.
Civilian Knowledge of the Military Environment Has DiminishedAs a country, America has been at war nonstop for the past 18 years. As a public, it has not. A total of about 2.5 million Americans, roughly three-quarters of 1 percent, served in Iraq or Afghanistan at any point in the post-9/11 years, many of them more than once. The Tragedy of the American MilitaryWar was much closer to home when the draft existed and military participation ran higher during WW II and the Vietnam Conflict.
The Nature of Today’s Wars and a Cynicism with Regard to Their Outcome Impacts the Veteran and the Civilian Outlook Ultimately, the military’s discontent may stem from dissonance between the commitment to, and pride in, the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan and the knowledge that these sacrifices have not yielded the desired results. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan arguably have prompted a crisis of confidence within the military itself.Despite a six-year, $287 million effort to make troops more optimistic and resilient, an Army survey found that 52 percent of soldiers scored badly on questions that measured optimism, while 48 percent reported having little satisfaction or commitment to their job.Understanding the Military’s Morale Crisis
Veterans bring these issues home and find a civilian employment environment that does not have a focus on combat life and death, but rather an emphasis on long term thinking, collaboration, viewing actions with respect to the impact on internal and external customers and politically correct human resource considerations.
The assumption on the part of the employer is that the strength and training of the individual coming out of the military environment permits a reasonable transition. It does not.
We Must Educate and Develop Programs to Bridge the Gap from Both Ends. A transition partnership between the veteran and the company is necessary. Expectations must be adjusted to reflect the differences in both venues.
Military core values such as – oaths, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), a culture of direct command, and a narrow focus on the task at hand are no longer available when the veteran leaves the military. In the civilian environment political correctness, strategic group awareness, tact, organization factors, and a broad view of mission and achievement are required.
A veteran is therefore is not so much entitled to a job as he or she is entitled to be understood, and to be allowed to understand the civilian job environment, growing into it.
Professional Roles are Vital
There are two important types of professional roles to consider when hiring and managing military veterans in the business venue. As a veteran who made the transition to civilian professional work and ultimately owned a small enterprise, and as a counselor who supports veterans in becoming business owners, my experience over several decades indicates military men and women do well in Role 1 below. They have the most challenges with Role 2.
Role 1 Technical – Scientific, engineering, logistics, electronics, design and similar skill sets where direct supervision, team building, corporate policy compliance and human resource planning and utilization are not major factors.
VS Role 2- Management – Functional process capacities responsible for hiring, evaluation, supervision, compliance with civilian law and department activities involving group dynamics, customer relations and sensitive human factors.
I came out of the military having had a leadership role in engineering, base development planning and combat support. I served in war zones in Southeast Asia and on highly classified missions. I was not a manager. I was a military leader in specialized skill sets under Role 1 above.
I knew how to direct people who followed orders without question because the Uniform Code of Military Justice to which we swore an oath said they must do so.
I felt uncomfortable in jobs involving Role 2 above because they were foreign to me. I later adjusted, learned the venue and became skilled as a manager in the corporate world. I preferred staff assignments, however for most of my career.
The corporate venue seemed enormously political and bureaucratic to a former war fighter like me. I was not that tactful. I cut to the chase often and did not always take everyone with me when I made a decision.
Once I grew into a Role 2 performer, I found in interviewing, hiring, evaluating and managing young veterans, even seasoned ones, who had retired and joined the civilian work force, that almost all were better suited for Role 1. It took years and effort on my part to fit them into Role 2 and some never made it.
Management Analysis and Moving Forward
The principal reason for the logic conveyed above is that the military environment may seem to be structured in a way that fits Role 2, but the military does not turn out individuals who are suited in the knowledge and experience necessary in the civilian environment and they are not very good at it without extensive training and adaptation.
Enterprises have multiple-faceted challenges and they require multiple- faceted people. Even though individuals may hold a specific position job title, success in the civilian work force demands avenues where the human resource can contribute in multiple ways.
If a contributor has experience and training in several areas the business can utilize, that makes him or her a valuable resource and it is likely they will be professionally fulfilled and rewarded from doing so. Military personnel have specialty training and focus; few have a wide view of what is in front of them, particularly with respect to military vs. civilian professional settings.
It all comes down to the workers having an element of control in the future success for both themselves and the company and having the opportunity to realize their potential in that regard.
If the professional is in a narrow, technical discipline and his or her expectations are to have others support them in that role or if they are more comfortable in a “Stove-piped” professional setting and not attuned to group dynamics and the often politically correct nature of the civilian organization, they perhaps belong in technical roles and they do not belong in management roles at the onset of their employ. Summary
In fairness to veterans and to our hopes for them in the future, we must understand these above distinctions, build on Role 1, understand the risk in Role 2 and assist wherever possible.Above all, a respectful partnership and realistic expectations must evolve between the veteran and the company for success in transitioning former military personnel into the civilian work force. This must be achieved through education, training, communication and assessment of both the veteran and the company personnel. “
About the Author: Ken Larson is a 2 Tour US Army Vietnam Veteran, retired after 36 Years in the Defense Industrial Complex, having worked on 25 major weapons systems, many of which are in use today in the Middle East. He concluded his career with his own consulting firm. As a MicroMentor Volunteer Counselor Ken receives many inquiries from small companies wishing to enter or enhance their position in federal government contracting.
“Starting Jan. 1, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and all service-connected disabled veterans, regardless of rating, as well as caregivers enrolled in the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program, will be able to shop at Defense Commissary Agency stores and military exchanges. “
“The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs are gearing up for what will be the largest expansion of patrons to the military commissary system and exchanges in 65 years, making sure that shoppers will be able to get on base and find the shelves fully stocked.
They also will have access to revenue-generating Morale, Recreation and Welfare amenities, such as golf courses, recreation areas, theaters, bowling alleys, campgrounds and lodging facilities that are operated by MWR.
Facilities such as fitness centers that receive funding from the Defense Department budget are not included.
At commissaries, however, there will be an added cost for new patrons who use a credit or debit card to pay for their groceries, in addition to the 5% surcharge commissary patrons already pay.
DoD officials told Military.com on Wednesday that an estimated 3.5 million new patrons will be eligible to shop. However, after analyzing store locations and their proximity to where veterans live, they expect that slightly more than a quarter of those patrons, or 800,000 people, will take advantage of the benefit.
According to Barry Patrick, associate director of MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, the DoD expects veterans in high-cost areas like Guam, Alaska, Hawaii and parts of California to take advantage of the benefit. Stores in states or cities with large populations of service-connected disabled veterans, including Florida, California, parts of Texas and Washington, D.C., may also see an increase in customers.
“Through this data analytics tool that we’ve developed, we’ve been able to provide the services and the resale organizations information … to ensure that [they] can adjust,” Patrick said. “We are working with distributors to ensure that the supply chain is adjusted accordingly, based on high-impact projections, and that the supply chain is also prepared for rapid, agile reaction to any unexpected situation.”
In addition to ironing out the supply chain concerns, Pentagon officials also have been working to guarantee that the new patrons can get to the stores, which often are located on secure military installations, and will be able to make purchases.
The details have required a joint effort for much of the past year between the DoD and the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and Treasury. Homeland Security is involved because Coast Guard Exchanges are part of the deal, and Treasury plays a role, because it is responsible for ensuring that new patrons pay a fee for credit and debit card purchases at the commissaries.
Since most new patrons lack the credentials needed to get on military bases, installations will accept the Veteran Health Identification card, or VHID, from disabled and other eligible veterans. For caregivers, the VA plans to issue a memo to eligible shoppers in the coming months, which will be used in conjunction with any picture identification that meets REAL ID Act security requirements, such as a compliant state driver’s license or passport.
Justin Hall, director of the MWR and Resale Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, said that, after Jan. 1, newly eligible patrons should go to the visitors’ center at the base where they plan to do most of their shopping to register their credentials. Thereafter, they will be able to access the base in the same way as CAC and DoD ID card patrons.
According to Hall and Patrick, store computers and registers are being tweaked to scan VHID cards, and employees are being trained on identifying the new patrons.
The most significant difference mandated in the law that created the benefit, the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, is that the new customers must pay a fee if they use a credit or debit card at the commissaries. By law, the stores, which receive funding from the Defense Department budget, are not allowed to cover the extra cost of the new users’ card convenience fees.
The initial fee for commercial credit cards will be 1.9%; for debit cards, it will be 0.5%. Patrons can avoid the card fees by paying by cash or check, or by using the Military Star card, a credit card offered by the military resale system, which they will be eligible to apply for beginning Jan. 1.
The card fees will apply only to the new patrons.
The Defense Department is preparing a fact sheet that will contain information on how veterans can get a VHID card if they don’t already have one and how caregivers can obtain the memo they need to access the benefit.
MWR and Resale Policy officials said they also will launch an information campaign to alert service-connected disabled veterans of this new benefit.
“Everybody I’ve talked to is excited,” Hall said. “We’re really hoping to get the word out so veterans will learn about the opportunities.”
“Veterans suicides rose in 2017 despite concerted efforts in recent years from federal officials and lawmakers to address mental health and emergency intervention services within the military community. “
“Veterans Affairs officials noted in a new analysis released Friday that because of a data delay, their report does not take into effect any new initiatives put in place over the last 22 months. They also emphasized in the report that suicide prevention has become a major public health problem throughout the country, not just in the veterans community.
“Veterans do not live, work, and serve in isolation from the community, the nation, or the world,” the report states. “The issue of suicide in the U.S. also affects the veteran population.”
But the increase in the number of veterans who die by suicide represents another setback for advocates who have worked in recent years to address the problem through public awareness campaigns, easier access to psychological treatment and aggressive messaging against the stigma of seeking mental health care.
More than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, about 17 individuals per day. That’s up about 2 percent from 2016 and about 6 percent over the previous 12 years.
The shift is even more pronounced considering that the total number of veterans in America is decreasing each year, as older generations of former military personnel age. The total number of veterans in America dropped almost 2 percent from 2016 to 2017 (about 370,000 veterans) and was down almost 18 percent from 2005 to 2017.
Department officials in recent years have quoted the rate of veterans suicides across the country as “20 per day,” reflecting past figures which included active-duty military, guardsmen and reservists who served on active-duty, and National Guard and reserve members who were never federally activated.
Officials said they changed this year’s report to focus solely on veterans to avoid confusion about the population they monitor and directly assist. If the other military and never-activated reservist numbers were included, it would have pushed the suicide rate for the total veteran-connected group to about 21 individuals per day.
Nearly 87 Americans die by suicide each day, according to federal statistics.
Women with prior military service are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as their civilian peers, according to the report. Male veterans are 1.3 times as likely to die by suicide as men who never served.
Almost two-thirds of the suicide deaths among veterans in 2017 were individuals who had no contact with the Veterans Health Administration. VA officials in recent years have focused on public outreach efforts to address that problem, noting limited opportunities to share information on support services with veterans who they don’t interact with regularly.
In a letter accompanying the report, Dr. Richard Stone — executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration — said that suicide “is a national public health problem that disproportionately affects those who served our nation.” He called upon community partners to work with the department on “actionable, manageable steps” to address the problem.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced the formation of a new task force lead by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to focus on the issue of veteran and military suicide prevention. Among the issues that group of federal officials is considering is how to more quickly compile national suicide data, to provide quicker analysis of how prevention programs are performing.
The task force is expected to issue a formal report early next spring.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance. “