VA’s Ongoing Abuse of Veteran Entrepreneurs

Updated October 10, 2018 at 10:40 PM

Two years into President Trump’s administration and there’s little evidence to suggest that the President or Secretary Robert Wilkie are aware of the continuing seriousness of problems related to VA’s abuse of Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB’s) and Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSB’s).

It’s not just that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) professes it far surpasses its SDVOSB/VOSB goals – even though the department hasn’t adjusted those goals since FY 2010, but that VA Contracting Officers coerce Veteran entrepreneurs into providing services that aren’t identified by contract, VA knowingly violates contracts with Veteran entrepreneurs since few small businesses can afford lengthy and costly court battles, and VA illegally uses proprietary products without a contract.

The issue of abuse has become so alarming that Representative Randy Hultgren (Il-14) is purportedly circulating a letter seeking action in support of Veteran entrepreneurs through the House Veterans Affairs Committee which will be delivered to Secretary Wilkie.

Examples of VA abuses noted above were numerous during investigations conducted by the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations (O&I) between 2011-2016 and efforts to stop the abuse included multiple hearings.  Yet, Veteran entrepreneurs continue to report abuses by VA.

For example, as a result of the department’s 2012 conference scandal, VA was under pressure to address lavish and unethical spending leading to a VA Program Executive hiring a veteran entrepreneur’s small company to redesign their operations and test potential supporting software.  All of the software applications, but for one, were licensed by VA IT.

According to a VA email, the unlicensed test copy of the software performed so well, a VA Program Executive wrote to the VA Project Manager that they planned to steal the software and have another contractor reverse engineer it to “avoid paying a vendor.”  The email seems to indicate reverse engineering software has been a common practice at VA.

After several months, a VA Contracting Officer sent the veteran entrepreneur a contract to update software labels, load current data, and test its use on a VA server, noted the Veteran.  But, he discovered, after signing the contract, that the VA Contracting Officer had removed key scope restrictions which led the business owner to dispute the issue with VA.  The Contracting Officer subsequently left VA.

Without a Contracting Officer overseeing the contract, the VA Project Manager  demanded out-of-scope software customization, under the threat of terminating the Veteran’s contract and further threatened to spread false information about his company to prevent any future government contracts.  With the fear of bankruptcy and the inability to pay his employees, the Veteran entrepreneur completed the new work, while waiting for a new VA Contracting Officer to step in and correct the situation. The VA did not assign a Contracting Officer for seven months, and the VA Project Manager continued to demand out-of-scope work which forced the Veteran entrepreneur into severe debt.

For well over a year, the Veteran entrepreneur has sought relief through appropriate VA channels, only to be bounced from one VA employee to another under the auspices of providing “help,” but in the end, VA simply ignored the seemingly numerous documented instances of malfeasance, said the Veteran who asked that his name and company not be identified.

In the latest round of mistreatment, the newest VA Contracting Officer assigned to the issue sent the Veteran entrepreneur a letter threatening to terminate the contract unless he gave up his claim of abuse, according to the Veteran.  Further, the business owner has been told that his claim has been denied because VA did not like how he documented work hour records after he was unable to pay his employees, an issue that has no merit.

The Veteran entrepreneur continues his fight with VA in an effort to keep his company afloat, but there has been little interest in resolving the matter from VA.  With less than a month for VA to address this issue, there’s a slim chance it could be resolved without court action unless Representative Hultgren’s letter convinces Secretary Wilkie to intervene.

SDVOSB’s and VOSB’s experiencing similar problems with VA should contact The White House/ VA hotline in support of Veteran entrepreneurs at 855-948-2311 and the House Veterans Affairs Committee at phone: (202) 225-3527 or Fax: (202) 225-5486.

Published by: Dr. Eric Hannel

Dr. Hannel retired from the United States Marine Corps and later served as a congressional military liaison and the Staff Director/lead investigator for the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations in the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. While in Congress, Dr. Hannel contributed to the amicus curiae brief presented to the Supreme Court of the United States regarding Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, spoke at length with the UK Defense Minister on veterans’ issues, and as part of the House Democracy Partnership he addressed Members of Parliament from Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Peru, and Timor-Leste and most recently the Secretary General of the Sri Lankan Parliament. Dr. Hannel has more than two decades of experience addressing systems, information, personnel, and personal security issues.

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