Legal Meets Practical: Accessible Solutions

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

LMP is Back in the USA!

As everyone who follows this blog knows, it is a weekly blog. And for the last three weeks, it has been missing from your inboxes! This is because I have been in South Korea, attending the wedding of the little guy featured below. (Who, as you can see, is no longer a “little guy.”). This is my brother, Bryan, who for the last five years has been in Korea teaching English. And the USA gets him back permanently this month!

Because I have neglected my readers (and for that, I do apologize), below is a summary of the news I would have covered had I not been otherwise engaged. Dear readers, know this neglect was unintentional, unavoidable, and will not happen again!

Now for the news…

  • VA Employee Indicted. A 50-count Department of Justice (DOJ) indictment, recently unsealed in federal court, has charged a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia with crimes related to his alleged falsification of medical records of numerous VA patients. The indictment alleges that Mr. Cathedral Henderson terminated unresolved consults – medical appointments that had not been scheduled or completed – by falsely stating in VA patients’ medical records that “services have been completed or patient refused services.” As a result of the indictment, the VA has terminated Mr. Henderson’s access to all of VA’s systems and placed him on administrative leave for the time being.
  • Increase in Vet Wait Times Not VA’s Fault? One year after the VA Phoenix scandal sparked national outrage, the number of veterans on wait lists to receive medical care is 50 percent higher than at the same time last year, according to VA data. HOWEVER, these stats may not be wholly the VA’s fault – its leadership attributed the growing wait times to soaring demand from veterans for medical services, brought on by the opening of new centers and a combination of: aging Vietnam veterans seeking care, the return of younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the exploding demand for new and costly treatments for Hepatitis C. The embattled VA says that its vast health-care system has handled 2.7 million more appointments than in any previous year, and has increased its capacity by more than 7 million patient visits per year, double what they anticipated, the New York Times reported this summer.
  • McDonald’s Happy Meal May Come from Veterans Choice Program. VA Secretary Robert McDonald has consistently represented that the end of next week, he expects Congress will endorse transferring up to $3 billion from the Veterans Choice program to close the VA’s budget gap. He also testified this week before the House Veterans Affairs committee on the need for lawmakers to close a $2.5 billion shortfall, which has been driven over the past year by a big increase in demand among veterans for health care services. (The affected Veterans Choice program is a temporary benefit that allows eligible Veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. You can learn more about the program here, as well as read complaints that it in effect is impossible to use here).

Hopefully next week I can report on more positive news from the VA. Thanks for reading!

NowThen

 

Independence Day News From LMP

First and foremost, happy Independence Day from Legal Meets Practical, LLC! I hope everyone has wonderful plans for the long weekend.

For those of you who follow my blog, you also likely know that I distribute a quarterly newsletter capturing major news items of interest to veterans. We’re now due for the summer edition, which you can access HERE.

There’s been a lot of juicy stories involving the VA lately – some of them scandalous, and some of them directly affecting those competing for federal government contracts. Below are just a few topics covered in this quarter’s edition:

  • The Supreme Court’s grant of cert to Kingdomware, a case the veteran business community has followed closely because it involves the VA’s position that it need not set aside opportunities on the Federal Supply Schedule to veteran-owned businesses.
  • A Norfolk pastor’s fraudulent submission of over 90 VA claims forms, and why his plan was doomed from the beginning.
  • The Jan Frye memorandum leaked to the press, which details how the VA awards billions of contract dollars each year in violation of federal procurement practices.
  • Impressions from the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s annual conference.
  • The resignation of Jeffrey Gault from the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation and the substantive changes he’s made to the VetBiz program.
  • The VA’s $100 million bailout related to a project dubbed the “biggest construction failure” in the history of the VA (and where the VA plans on getting the money to finish it).

Hope you enjoy it. And thank you to all of those who have served our country to keep us free on this important holiday!

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

VA Loses One of the Good Ones

As a veterans advocate and attorney, I deal with Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) employees a lot. And here is something that might surprise a lot of people – some of those individuals are outstanding. There are individuals within the VA that truly and passionately care about their mission to help veterans, work long hours, and in general go above and beyond.

The problem is, you don’t hear about these individuals. The VA doesn’t have an “Employee of the Month,” or showcase the employees who make a difference. In fact, it’s hard to make a difference – as cliché as it sounds, the government is all about red tape and bureaucracy. You have a great idea? Write a memorandum about it and see where it goes.

One VA employee falls into the category of one of the VA’s outstanding folks, and has in fact effected substantive change. And guess what?

He’s gone now.

That individual is Jeffrey Gault, who just left his post as Acting Director of the Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) last week. (The CVE is the entity that approves veteran-owned businesses for set-aside opportunities with the VA).

A veteran of the U.S. Army who served two deployment in the Middle East, Mr. Gault has spent the last year and a half commuting between his home in Dallas and the CVE’s location in Washington, D.C. He will now focus full-time on running a Texas non-profit organization called The Army Scholarship Fund, which is a charitable, non-profit organization dedicated to providing college scholarships for undergraduate study to children of current and former members of the U.S. Army, and to spouses of currently serving soldiers.

As an attorney who dealt with the CVE a lot, I’ve seen how the process has evolved and improved since Mr. Gault took the helm. For example:

  • In general, the process has become more streamlined, and the application examiners have been making less mistakes because of additional training. That’s thousands of hours saved by veterans applying for verification.
  • Under Mr. Gault’s direction, the pre-decision and pre-determination processes have been refined and improved. These replaced the request for reconsideration process, which effectively meant that if you got denied verification, you had the pleasure of  a six-month wait.
  • Mr. Gault has reached out to the veteran community for input into improving the CVE, and has implemented change where possible.
  • The CVE was certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as fully compliant with ISO9001 standards for its operations, processes, metrics, and quality of work. There are very few organizations within the VA or the federal government which meet this strict set of criteria for operations and quality.

I’m not saying here that the criticisms aimed at the VA aren’t well-deserved. Quite frankly, I’ve had nothing positive to blog about for months – every post has been about the VA wasting billions in federal contract dollars, the VA Secretary’s resignation, the Phoenix OIG report, the elf on a shelf scandal. the Colorado construction contract catastrophe…I could go on. (And in fact, this article could be construed as negative, as Mr. Gault is leaving).

But point being, we should always acknowledge the individuals within the VA that do make a difference, given that its mission of helping veterans is of paramount importance to our country.

And especially that given the unique nature of the federal government, going above and beyond doesn’t always have its rewards.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

 

Kingdomware is Lucky 1%! Supreme Court to Hear Vets Case

“May the odds be forever in your favor.”

So goes the saying from the incredibly popular HUNGER GAMES franchise, rendered darkly amusing by the fact that for those participants in the dystopian society’s annual Hunger Games (i.e., the sacrifice of two youths from each district, save for one actual winner of the “games”), the odds are most, decidedly, not in one’s favor.

The Supreme Court is another place where the odds are not in someone’s favor. Every year, the Supreme Court receives about 10,000 writs of certiori (petitions asking it to hear a case that has been decided by a lower court). Of those, the Supreme Court decides to hear about 80. That means that each case has less than a one percent chance of being heard.

And on June 22, 2015, the Supreme Court decided that Kingdomware will be one of them.

Most veteran business owners have heard of Kingdomware, but here’s the recap:

The Kingdomware saga began with a slew of GAO rulings in 2012 that berated the VA for not following its mandate in the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006 (the “Act”).

The Act provides that before using Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) procedures, a contracting officer must determine whether he has a reasonable expectation that: 1) two or more service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) will submit offers; and 2) the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price. If the answer is “yes,” the award must be set aside for SDVOSBs. (38 U.S.C. 8 127(d)(2006)). The idea is to maximize awards to SDVOSBs, as a purpose of the act is to protect veteran businesses.

Long story short, the VA decided that despite this provision under the Act, it wasn’t required to set aside awards off the FSS for SDVOSBs, awarded to non-SDVOSBs, and got beaten down by the GAO (that’s a legal term). See Kingdomware Technologies, Inc., B-406507 (May 30, 2012); Aldevra, B-406331 (April 20, 2012).

The VA won the next battle, staged at the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CoFC). In November of 2012, the CoFC ruled that the VA acted reasonably in determining that it need not set aside FSS contracts for SDVOSBs. In finding that the VA had not acted “arbitrarily, capriciously, or contrary to law” (another legal term, only this one’s real), the CoFC held that the VA had reasonably interpreted its own law in finding that it was not mandated to set aside awards to SDVOSBs. This decision was also affirmed in a federal circuit decision issued in June of 2014.

Not happy with this result, two veteran organizations – the American Legion and the National Veteran Small Business Coalition (NVSBC)  – petitioned the Supreme Court. And now, it’s official – they will be heard.

I have to wonder – does timing play a huge role in the Supreme Court’s decision? The granting of cert comes very soon after Jan Frye’s explosive memorandum (reporting billions of dollars awarded by the VA in violation of its own procurement policies/laws), the Phoenix scandal (blatant violation of wait times), and the Denver disaster (VA medical center construction plagued by delays and huge cost overruns). Among other VA scandals.

At any rate, they will be heard! Stay tuned here for updates.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

 

Rumble in the Bronx: Frye Did It!

A Bronx VA hospital is under a federal investigation after the Department of Veterans Affairs discovered some questionable purchases by the facility that can’t seem to be explained. And this is one mystery the taxpayers want solved.

As of this Monday (June 15), the VA Office of Inspector General is investigating whether Bronx VA hospital employees have abused government-issued purchase cards, or “GPCS,” which authorize purchases under the micro-purchase threshold of $3000. It is not permissible for the government to split purchases in order to avoid exceeding this threshold.

According to a recent memorandum addressed to VA Secretary Robert McDonald by Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for the VA, the Bronx facility engaged in this illegal splitting. It spent over $50 million on prosthetic limbs in two years through purchases made at least 2,000 times. Each purchase totaled $2,999 — just one dollar bellow the VA’s $3,000 GPC limit.

According to the Washington Post, which seems to have had the scoop on this story, when Congress learned of this practice, it demanded answers. The VA did not, however, turn over any documentation to authenticate the purchases. Instead, it claimed they were destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations didn’t buy this excuse. Led by Kathleen Rice, a New York Congresswoman, it called for an investigation during a series of hearings concerning spending practices of the VA.

“The damage caused by Superstorm Sandy was devastating and far-reaching, but the claim that all of these documents were destroyed strikes me as all too convenient and must be substantiated,” Rice said in a statement. “We need to know exactly what happened to the documents, how and why this money was spent without written contracts, and who is accountable.”

Bronx is not alone here. This case was one of several acquisition practices Frye described in his memo. According to the memorandum, the VA spends billions of dollars each year on medical supplies and services in violation of federal procurement laws. Frye’s memorandum lists not only VA facilities, but the names of VA officials.

In the months to come, expect other shakedowns like this one. Who’s next?

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

Rockin’ Orange: Contract Fraud Can Change Your Wardrobe

UPDATE: If you read my prior blog on the Jan Frye memorandum (detailing the VA’s “mockery” of spending rules resulting in $6 billion being spent improperly on an annual basis) and would like to read his memorandum, access it HERE.

Tomorrow I’m headed to Norfolk, Virginia to speak at the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s (NVSBC) annual conference, which is designed with the same mission my company has: to help veteran-owned small businesses grow. While I’ve already blogged on this conference, a recent Department of Justice press release illustrates how important continuing education is for federal contractors.

You know why? Because if you violate the federal government’s rules, you could end up in jail. And who wants to wear orange for the next ten to twenty?

A June 3, 2015 Department of Justice press release illustrates this principle. Basically, this memorandum details an alleged “pass-through scheme” where one brother used another brother’s service-disabled veteran status in order to pursue service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVOSB) set-aside contracts.

The Puerto Rico indictment alleges that the service-disabled veteran was employed as a full-time U.S. Postal Service Carrier, and he was not in charge of the day to day operations of the SDVOSB. He was simply a figurehead or “rent-a-vet,” who was being used for his service-disabled veteran status to obtain contracts for his brother’s company. Per the indictment, as a result of the scheme the company unlawfully received set-aside and/or sole-source SDVOSB contracts from the VA, including contracts involving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

If convicted (and keep in mind that these are simply allegations; these individuals are innocent until proven guilty), the brothers face a term of 20 years in prison as to each wire fraud charge and up to ten years in prison for the charges of major fraud against the United States. Additionally, they face fines of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release as to each count.

It’s true that some people set out to defraud the federal government. There are pass-through schemes, and fraud, and general unsavory activities. Then, however, there are the folks who don’t know any better. They think, “hey, my cousin/brother/father/dentist is a veteran; why not set up a company in his name and go after set-aside contracts?”

If those people do their homework – by going to a conference, inquiring on LinkedIn, contacting their local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) – that plan will get shot down pretty fast. Or maybe they’ll find a way to ensure they meet the SDVOSB eligibility requirements. (For example, a veteran business owner can have a business listed in the VetBiz database while working full-time elsewhere. It all depends on the circumstances whether that veteran business owner still “controls” the SDVOSB and meets its “full-time” requirements). While this might not be the case here – or these folks could be completely innocent – the fact of the matter is this does happen. People get in trouble because they don’t understand how big a deal it is to certify eligibility for set-aside awards.

When you do business with the federal government, you’re held to a higher standard. If you’re certifying yourself as meeting the requirements for self-aside contacts, you’re putting yourself out there. Protect yourself by doing your homework! Otherwise you might find yourself wearing orange.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

Calamity in Colorado: VA’s $100 Million (And Counting) Bailout

A project dubbed the “biggest construction failure” in the history of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – already $1 billion over budget and more than a year behind schedule — is getting another $100 million taxpayer bailout.

After a Republican-led cash infusion approved by President Obama this week, construction will continue on a new veterans medical center near Denver that is expected to serve 400,000 former military service members and their families. Ahead of Memorial Day, contractors had prepared to stop work on the project as approved funding dried up after repeated overruns and delays.

The $100 million fix is only a stop-gap measure: it funds just three more weeks of work.

The costs to taxpayers for the project have already ballooned from an initial $328 million price tag in 2005 to $1.73 billion (a 427% increase), with years more construction to go, according to an April Government Accountability Office Report (the “Report”).

Also, the VA does not even have an estimate for when construction will be complete. It used to be February 2014, and now it is “unknown.” Reasons documented for the cost overruns and delays include a change in project scope (decisions to change plans from a shared university/VA medical center to a standalone VA medical center); and unanticipated events such as a need to eradicate asbestos and replace faulty electrical systems.

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has called the agency’s entire construction program “a disaster” and the Denver project its “biggest construction failure.”

Congress had imposed an $880 million spending cap on the program, but the agency has repeatedly lobbied lawmakers to lift the cap and provide more funds.

Because after all, what happens if the money stops pouring in? No one wants to walk away from such an important project…especially since hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are already invested.

For more information about the Denver overruns (and others), access the Report here.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on timely veterans issues at legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

Public Shaming Over VA Waste Prompts Investigation

In a 35-page memorandum addressed to VA Secretary, Robert McDonald, the VA’s senior official for procurement, Jan Frye, accuses other agency leaders of “gross mismanagement” and making a “mockery” of federal acquisition laws that require competitive bidding and proper contracts.

The result: the wasting of at least $6 billion a year in the federal contract arena. Note that this is $6 billion a year, not $6 billion, period.

“Doors are swung wide open for fraud, waste and abuse,” Frye writes in the March memo, which was obtained by D.C.’s The Washington Post. He adds, “I can state without reservation that VA has and continues to waste millions of dollars by paying excessive prices for goods and services due to breaches of Federal laws.”

In the memorandum, Frye describes in detail a series of practices that he says run afoul of federal rules, including the widespread use of government purchase cards, which are usually meant as a convenience for minor purchases of up to $3,000, to buy billions of dollars worth of medical supplies without contracts. In one example, he says that up to $1.2 billion in prosthetics were bought using purchase cards without contracts during an 18-month period that ended in 2014.

Frye also explains how VA has failed to engage in competitive bidding or sign contracts with outside hospital and health-care providers that offer medical care for veterans that the agency cannot provide, such as specialized tests and surgeries and other procedures. Frye says the VA has paid at least $5 billion in such fees, in violation of federal rules that the agency’s own general counsel has said since 2009 must be followed.

Frye alleges further violations in the agency’s purchase of billions of dollars worth of prosthetics and in the acquisition of a wide range of daily medical and surgical supplies. He says many products are bought without the competitive bidding and contracts essential to ensure quality care, effective use of tight dollars and proper government oversight.

After the memorandum was leaked to the press (which raises an interesting question – who leaked it?), members of the House Veterans’ Committee held a two-hour hearing to address the issues it raised. This is the first of three hearings scheduled for the Spring, during which the Committee Chair, Mr. Jeff Miller, remarked, “To let this continue and not be furious about it defies anybody’s rational thinking.”

Following the hearing, Secretary McDonald issued a response to the memorandum. Frye says this is the first time the VA has responded to the memorandum, which means that the VA did not acknowledge it until public release and public shaming.

Secretary McDonald said he has asked the inspector general’s office to review the letter. “Any findings of wrongdoing or evidence of harm to Veterans” will be referred to the Justice Department, he wrote.

Which, of course, means that some VA folk will be “redistributed.” After an investigation. And a memorandum with “recommendation.”

Good to know the situation’s being handled.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veterans issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

What Are You Doing June 8th through the 11th?

If you are a veteran-owned small business doing business with the federal government, you should consider attending the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s (NVSBC) conference in Norfolk, Virginia this year from June 8th through June 11th. The NVSBC is a veteran-run, D.C. based organization with a mission of transitioning veterans into business owners servicing the federal government.

Every year, the NVSBC hosts its conference, VETS 15, towards the ends of: connecting business owners with procurement officials and prospective teaming partners, educating contractors on important procurement topics, and providing the opportunity to network. It is the largest annual conference hosted by veterans, for veterans.

While the conference is traditionally in Reno, Nevada, it moved to Norfolk this year in order to attract more federal agencies, large contractors, and speakers. It appears this goal has been met given its exhibitors posted, to include BAE, General Dynamics, the NASA Office of Small Business Programs, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon. The announced keynote speakers are Michael Hayden, former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and Thomas Kolditz, a retired Brigadier General who is a professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management.

In addition – and importantly- the conference offers a range of learning sessions taught by industry professionals and experts. The agenda includes sessions on VetBiz verification, financing options for veteran-owned small businesses, how to manage a federal contract effectively and profitably, how to write a technical proposal, and updates on the small business proposed rules. As noted by NVSBC President, Scott Denniston, “We are expecting a much larger crowd and have specifically tailored the workshops to be of interest to novice businesses in the federal space as well as the mature veteran-owned small businesses.”

If you are a non-member of the NVSBC, the registration rate is currently $399. Also, know that Norfolk Waterside Marriott, which is where the conference is held, gave NVSBC a group rate of $87 per room that is good only through May 18. You can access more information about registration and the hotel on the conference’s website.

I will be at this conference, presenting on the VA’s VetBiz verification process on Tuesday, June 9th with former Civilian Board of Contract Appeals Judge, Mr. Bill Thomas. We will also be distributing my VetBiz handbook, which gives the nitty gritty on how to get through the verification process. I hope to see you there!

*Access the full conference website at: http://www.veterantrainingsymposium.com. Also, if you are interested in joining the NVSBC, or are a member who wants to see what the NVSBC has planned for the upcoming year, attend the Board meeting that will be held on Monday, June 8th, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

 

Chaos at the CVE: Nobody Panic!

The Center for Verification’s (CVE) help desk line is going to be blowing up today.

The long and the short of it – some kind of technical error happened with the VetBiz registry, which is the database used to house and list all of the information of 7,157 veteran-owned businesses. If you are in that database, and you have received a message that looks like this, ignore it.

Basically, this message says that your business has expired and has been removed from the VetBiz database, which means that you are not eligible to compete for contracts issued by the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs as a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) or service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDOVSB) set-aside.

If you have gone through the verification process and suddenly think your verification status has been taken away from you, this is, of course, a very big, very bad deal. But please don’t panic! It appears that this message has been sent to everyone in the database (or if not everyone, at least a large percentage); when I checked my email and voicemail this morning, I had a number of messages from panicked veterans.

In sum, don’t call the CVE, don’t do anything – this is a terrible error, but nothing has actually happened to your business’ status. If you should be verified, you are still verified, I assure you!

As a last note, it appears that a few different problems have been at play ever since a system upgrade went into effect in late April. I have seen a few truly strange things happen with applications since that time; and I know of one business that received a notice to change their password…but the link provided was broken. Accordingly, now they cannot access their account to make any necessary changes.

“Someone needs to be held accountable,” that veteran business owner said to me. “This isn’t a system problem, it’s a person problem. It shouldn’t be my job to stay on hold with the help desk for an hour.”

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran business issues at: https://legalmeetspractical.com.

 

Page 10 of 24« First...«89101112»20...Last »

Mission Statement

My mission is to provide accessible, high-quality legal services to small business owners and to veterans. I will strive to clearly communicate, understand objectives, and formulate and execute effective legal solutions.

Disclaimer

No Attorney-Client Relationship

This website is maintained exclusively for informational purposes. It is not intended to provide legal or other professional advice and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the lawyer or her clients. Viewing this site, using information from it, or communicating with Sarah Schauerte through this site by email does not create an attorney-client relationship.

Non-Reliance

Online readers should not act nor decline to act, based on content from this site, without first consulting an attorney or other appropriate professional. Because the law changes frequently, this website's content may not indicate the current state of the law. Nothing on this site is meant to predict or guarantee future results. I am not liable for the use or interpretation of information contained on this website, and expressly disclaim all liability for any actions you take or fail to take, based on this website's content.

Links

I do not necessarily endorse and am not responsible for content accessed through this website's links to other Internet resources. Correctness and adequacy of information on those sites is not guaranteed, and unless otherwise stated, I am not associated with such linked sites.

Contacting Me

You may email me through the email address provided by this site, but information you send through email or this website is not secure and may not be confidential. Communications will not be treated as privileged unless I already represent you. Do not send confidential information until you have established a formal attorney-client relationship with me. Even if I represent you, please understand that email security is still uncertain and that you accept all risks of such uncertainty and potential lack of confidentiality when you send us unencrypted, sensitive, or confidential email. Email from me never constitutes an electronic signature, unless it expressly says so.