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The National Veterans Small Business Conference: The One Event to Attend this Year!

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced a time and place for its annual National Veterans Small Business Conference. If you’re a veteran small business owner, this may be the one event to check out this year!

The National Veterans Small Business Conference will take place from August 6th through August 8th at America’s Convention Center in St. Louis. In those three days, veteran small business owners will network with potential teaming partners, as well as rub elbows with the 300 VA procurement officials present. These officials are not only required to attend the conference, but they are mandated to conduct a follow-up meeting with at least three veteran business owners.

I attended a VetForce meeting in Washington, D.C. last week, where Tom Leney (the executive director of the Center for Veterans Enterprise) provided valuable information not included on the conference’s website. He noted that 86% of conference attendees are there to meet customers. This makes sense, as the procurement officials attending the conference have requirements that need to be met. This is an opportunity to use your elevator pitch, make connections, and make sure procurement officials know who you are and what you business has to offer.

Another reason small business owners attend is to connect with potential prime contractors, as many large businesses are sponsoring booths. Some of these companies may even be interested in teaming with small businesses on commercial opportunities. (Mr. Leney mentioned that AT&T is one such company).

Registration for the conference has not yet opened, but you can sign up to receive updates on registration at http://www.nationalveteransconference.com. As of today’s date, the only information available is the pricing list for booths, tables, and admission tickets, but Mr. Leney relayed that the list of attending procurement officials is forthcoming.

As a last note, this isn’t just a networking opportunity. It’s also a chance to check out St. Louis! As a native, I can tell you it’s the best Midwestern city there is. Here are my top reasons for why this is true:

  • St. Louis City Museum – With slides, stories-high slinkys for the kids to climb through, an antique carnival, caverns, and trees to explore, this is no ordinary museum. On Washington Street, a prime spot for St. Louis nightlife.
  • Forest Park – The seventh-largest urban park in the country, featuring hiking trails, a zoo, golfing, tennis courts, outdoor free plays, museums, and dining by the water
  • Union Station – An old railroad station that now has shops, restaurants, and a paddle boat area.
  • Lotawata Creek – The best restaurant in the entire world. Salads, steaks, and savory burgers topped with cheeses, pickles, and onions…and all of the portions are the size of your head. As an appetizer, they serve a sweet bread with honey butter you will want to stow away on the airplane ride home. Lotawata is located in O’Fallon, Illinois, but that’s a quick drive across the river.
  • Missouri Botanical Gardens – Acres and acres of beautiful flowers, fountains, a Japanese tea garden, and greenhouses. This gem features jazz in the summertime (Bring your own food and wine!).
  • Crown Candy Kitchen – An old fashioned malt and shake shoppe, this restaurant makes you feel like you are stepping back in time. The melts are amazing, and you can also buy candy. The one disadvantage is this was recently featured on the Travel Channel, and I hear the line’s been out the door. Good for them, bad for hungry patrons…
  • Hope to see you there!

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Raise Your Voice! VA Seeks Comments to Improve VetBiz Verification Process

On May 13, the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU) announced that it is reviewing its regulations governing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) Verification Program (referred to as “Vetbiz”). OSDBU intends to improve the regulations to provide greater clarity, to streamline the program, and to encourage more VOSBs to apply for verification. By providing advanced notice of this proposed rulemaking, OSDBU seeks comments on how best to approach this undertaking. If you are a veteran business owner and have something to say about VetBiz, make sure your comments are received by the VA by the deadline of July 12!

In amending the regulations governing VetBiz, the VA seeks to find the appropriate balance between preventing fraud in the Veterans First Contracting Program and making it easier for more VOSBs to become verified. So far, this has proved difficult – fraud has received much attention due to Government Accountability Office reports on the subject, while legitimate veteran-owned small businesses have not received verification due to the cumbersome (and often confusing) VetBiz application process.

Accordingly, to find this balance, the VA is considering ways to improve the VA VOSB Verification Guidelines. VA has already collected suggestions from a wide range of sources for changes to the regulations, and has compiled them into a single document (Compilation Document). The VA’s 34-page Compilation Document can be assessed here.

In addition to input on the comments and criticisms raised in the Compilation Document, the VA seeks input on the following specific questions:

1. What could be changed to improve the clarity of the regulations? Where might bright lines be drawn to more clearly indicate compliance with the regulations and reduce potential for misinterpretation? Where might the addition of bright line tests create unintended consequences?

2. It has been suggested that VA should develop a list that would clearly delineate what constitutes ownership and control and what constitutes lack of control or ownership. Should a list like this be included in the rule, and if so, what should be on the list?

3. Are there changes to the regulations governing VetBiz that could be made to reduce the economic impact on VOSBs?

4. Are there changes to VA Form 0877 (application) that could streamline the process?

5. What verification process improvements could help to increaseefficiency and reduce burden for VOSBs?

6. What additional training tools or assistance might be offered to create more clarity for stakeholders and help them more efficiently and effectively navigate the verification regulations?

7. What documents, records, or other materials could the Office for the Center for Veterans Enterprise use to distinguish legitimate VOSBs/SDVOSBs from businesses that fraudulently seek contracts from the Government?

8. Would a special Hotline to report suspected ineligible VOSBs/SDVOSBs help the Government ensure that contracts are awarded to legitimate VOSBs/SDVOSBs?

From my professional relationships with veteran business owners, as well as participation in veteran advocacy groups, I know that this is an opportunity many veteran business owners have waited for. Especially if you have been through the VetBiz process and have suggestions for ways to simplify the process for other veterans, I urge you to submit constructive comments that will help fulfill the purpose of the Veterans First Contracting Program: to help veteran-owned businesses. Such comments may be submitted in writing through www.Regulations.gov; by mail or hand-delivery to Director, Regulation Policy and Management (02REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont Ave. NW., Room 1068, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 273-9026. (This is not a toll-free number.) Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AO63—VA Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB) Verification Guidelines.”

For more information and links to the notice of proposed rulemaking, the existing regulations, and the Compilation Document, access the VA’s press release here.

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VA to Expedite Disability Claims…But Will it Work?

On April 19, 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced it is implementing an initiative to expedite disability compensation claims that are over one year old. VA claims raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, as well as order and expedite any medical examinations necessary to decide claims.

There’s a key phrase in this opening paragraph: “provisional decision.” A provisional decision is essentially a “placeholder decision” – a decision qualifies if the VA can make the determination that a veteran is entitled to at least a minimum rating. Before it assigns this minimum rating, however, it may be necessary for the VA to provide an expedited medical examination.

The best way to demonstrate how this works is to provide an example. Let’s say a veteran submitted a claim to a Regional Office (RO) in 2011 for traumatic brain injury (TBI). The evidence submitted shows that the veteran shows symptoms of TBI, but a neurological examination is necessary to rate the disability. The RO has not yet scheduled an examination.

Under the new initiative, here’s what will happen. First, since a VA examination is necessary, that examination will be ordered and expedited. The RO will issue a provisional decision. Then, for up to a year after the provisional decision is issued, the veteran will also have the opportunity to submit additional evidence. If he does, and the RO finds that an increase in rating is warranted, that increase will be backdated to the date the initial claim was filed. If the veteran does not submit additional evidence, the provisional decision becomes final one year after it is issued.

So here’s the breakdown:

  • The VA will pull claims that have been pending for over a year, to be expedited.
  • If an exam is necessary to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited.
  • VA RO claims adjustors will make “provisional decisions” on these claims.
  • The veteran will have one year after the date of the provisional decision to submit additional evidence. If any increase is determined to be warranted based on the additional evidence received, benefits will be retroactive to the date the claim was filed.
  • If no additional evidence is received within a year, the provisional decision will become final.
The VA’s initiative leaves some unanswered questions.
  • First, how long will it take for provisional decisions to be rendered? In other words, what does “expedited” mean? How long is it going to take the VA to pull the claims that have been pending for over a year? (And if these are some of the oldest claims, shouldn’t they be close to the front of the queue already?)
  • Second, is this process limited to initial claims that have not yet been assigned a rating, or does it apply to decisions for which veterans have already issued Notice of Disagreements (NODs)? As many veterans who have been through that process know, it can take years for VA movement after a NOD.
  • Third, how much will this slow the disability compensation claims process generally? This new initiative adds several new steps, including identifying and pulling those claims that must be fast-tracked, and sending letters to those veterans whose provisional claims have become final after a year. As noted in a VA press release, “the focus on processing the oldest claims will cause the overall measure of the average length of time to complete a claim – currently 286 days – to skew, rising significantly in the near term because of the number of old claims that will be completed.” The VA contends that once the backlog is cleared and more claims are processed electronically, the processing time will decrease significantly, but it has not provided a time frame for this.

These will remain questions until the initiative is implemented. Stay tuned in the months to follow for the answers. In the meantime, access the VA’s news release on the initiative here and the VA fact sheet here.

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VetBiz Program Now Offers True Second Chance

For the first time, the Center for Veterans Enterprises (CVE) will offer veteran business owners a true second chance when it comes to applying to its VetBiz Vendor Information Pages (VIP) Program.

Beginning today, May 1st, the CVE will allow applicants the opportunity to correct minor deficiencies before an initial denial is issued. This opportunity is aimed at companies that would not be verified due to a single point of failure in their applications, such as an impermissible provision in an operating agreement. These companies will receive a preliminary finding before a determination letter of eligibility is issued.  They will then have 48 hours to respond with their intent to correct and resubmit the documents within a specified timeframe.

This is the most recent initiative designed to improve the verification process, following the recent publication on the VetBiz website of a number of new Verification Assistance Briefs. The CVE expects this to greatly reduce the number of its initial denials and subsequent requests for reconsideration. The process will also increase wait times, as it adds an additional step; but for those companies that obtain verification as a result, the wait is worth it.

The overall success rate will also be positively impacted. A second chance before denial will make a huge difference, as many veteran business owners complain of being denied VetBiz verification due to a minor issue they weren’t given the opportunity to correct.

We all know the VetBiz Program is still undergoing growing pains. Hopefully this new second chance will push it closer towards full development.

Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for my blog on my homepage at https://legalmeetspractical.com. Also, my frequently-updated FAQs page on the VetBiz verification process can be accessed here.

 

 

 

The VA Backlog: If There’s an Executive Order, Give It Teeth

Senators are circulating an open letter asking President Obama to help end the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims backlog. This action is staunchly supported by veteran advocate groups, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. The hope is President Obama will issue an executive order similar to the one issued in August of 2012, which directed federal officials to take concrete, specific steps in combatting veteran suicide.

So if this letter works, what kind of executive order can we expect from President Obama? With a disability backlog of over 900,000 claims and wait times for initial decisions exceeding a year, veterans need an executive order with teeth. It needs to lay out an actual plan for how to end the backlog, not just reiterate the same promises the VA has been making for years.

As a veterans lawyer, I commonly encounter the same issues. Not just complaints about the wait times, but complaints about how the claims process works in general. The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggestions for how the VA can stop saying it will improve the backlog, but actually do so:

  • Implement a training program for claims adjustors at Regional Offices. A standardized claim adjudication training program should be implemented in all of the Regional Offices, developed based on common mistakes.
  • Compartmentalize claims. Claims adjustors should always be assigned a certain type of claim. For example, one claims adjustor might always adjudicate PTSD claims, while another claims adjustor focuses on aggravation of leg injuries. By specializing, claims adjustors will be better equipped to deal with the difficult and nuanced issues claims present.
  • Assign accountability for mishandled claims. Sometimes veterans waits nine months for a decision, and the decision is replete with errors. And what can the veteran do? His decision is file-stamped by the director of the Regional Office, not the adjustor who decided the claim. The veteran can only file a Notice of Disagreement, send it off to the Regional Office, and wait some more. This isn’t fair to the veteran, and it isn’t good for the backlog because the veteran’s still in the system. To prevent this, Regional Offices should spot-check individual decisions rendered by claims adjudicators by providing random quality checks.
  • Improve communication. Veterans are often confused by the boilerplate information provided to them, and calling the VA’s 1-800 number generally results in a long wait time and frustration. As a result, if a veteran has a question relating to what he should do to pursue his claim, the question is often not answered clearly. The veteran responds by either doing nothing or submitting information that might not be what the VA needs. The former route hurts just the veteran, but the latter route hurts both the veteran and the VA – the veteran isn’t facilitating his claim, and the VA has more paperwork. The VA must develop better channels of communication – a help line where individuals can explain the different steps of the process to the veteran and more online information. Improving communication will, however, be the biggest challenge, due to the sheer number of veterans.
  • Enhance veteran resources. There are many wonderful resources and associations available to veterans, but these are not enough. Pro bono associations that handle claims are spread thin. The VA must expand resources available to veterans so veterans do not feel that they are alone in this process. VA disability compensation is an entitlement, and it should be treated as such.

In the end, there are many aspects of the disability claims process the VA can’t help. It can’t help the enormous backlog, the number of military members leaving active duty, and errors that may occur by veterans seeking disability compensation. However, there is much to be done to improve the system, and an executive order with teeth can take a bite out of the backlog.

CVE Revamps VetBiz Website to Increase Verification Success Rates

In an effort to increase the success rates of businesses seeking verification in its VetBiz program, the Center for Veterans Enterprises (CVE) has revamped its website. For the first time, veteran business owners have access to information including: current verification and request for reconsideration (R4R) success rates and wait times; the top ten reasons for verification denials; and nearly a dozen new Verification Assistance Briefs. The idea here is clear: the CVE wants to give veterans the tools to “get it right” the first time.

So what do these tools entail?

VetBiz Statistics. According to the “Average Verification Processing Time” webpage of the VetBiz website, the current success rate for initial verifications is 60%, and the average processing time is 54 days. In contrast, 51% of all R4Rs are granted, with an average processing time of 130 days. This webpage, which is updated periodically when new data is available, may be accessed here.

Reasons for Denial. Below the table of processing times and success rates on the “Average Verification Processing Time,” the CVE published a pie chart. This lists the most common reasons for denial of a VetBiz application, most of which are due to issues with a company’s corporate documents. A whopping 66% of applications are denied because of issues with quorum (voting) and transfer restriction provisions. This is interesting in light of the recent Miles decision rendered by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims – according to both Miles, and the CVE’s Verification Assistance Brief on the subject, a right of first refusal provision is permissible under VA regulations. This means that the VA regulations are less strict than those of the Small Business Administration’s Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Program, which have been interpreted to not permit a right of first refusal provision.

Verification Assistance Briefs. Also accessible are the CVE’s Verification Assistance Briefs, which were drafted by CVE to address and clarify the requirements that most often lead to denial. Of the fifteen Verification Assistance Briefs now posted, some of these topics include: the veteran’s entitlement to receive 51% of the annual distribution; the requirement that ownership be direct; how to show control of a limited liability company; the definition of a “small” business; and the meaning of “full-time control.” These verification assistance briefs may be accessed here.

Will these tools work? Only time will tell. Stay tuned to see. In the interim, if you’re interested in learning more about the verification process, please visit my VetBiz verification FAQs webpage.

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A Harsh SDVOSB Bid Protest Lesson: Know Your Forum

Most service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) owners know they need not be listed in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA’s) VetBiz database in order to compete for non-VA contracts. Rather, they must only meet the Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) SDVOSB program eligibility requirements.

But what do business owners do when a federal agency makes a mistake? What happens when a federal agency finds an SDVOSB ineligible for a set-aside because it isn’t listed in VetBiz? It is not permitted to do that, and the contractor has a recourse. That recourse, however, must be sought in the appropriate forum. This was illustrated in a recent  decision issued by the Small Business Administration Office of Hearing and Appeals (SBA OHA). 347 Construction Group, SBA No. Vet-232 (February 22, 2013).

In 347, the protestor was notified by the U.S. Department of the Air Force that it was excluded from competition for a solicitation simply because it was not registered in VetBiz. The protest of this decision ultimately made its way to the SBA OHA.

The SBA OHA didn’t disagree with the protestor’s contention that the Air Force acted improperly, citing to the well-established case law that SBA regulations do not require a business to be registered in VetBiz in order to be eligible for the SBA’s SDVOSB program. The problem was the protestor brought this argument in the wrong forum. As noted by the SBA OHA, it will only entertain an SDVOSB status protest directed against a procurement’s apparently successful offeror. In this case, however, 347 was requesting its own eligibility to be reviewed, not that of the awardee.

Because the protestor’s bid protest grounds related to the conduct of the procurement (ie, improper exclusion of an offeror), the proper forum was the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The SBA OHA noted several recent similar decisions decided by the GAO, such as a case where the GAO determined a protestor ineligible for a VA contract because it was not listed in VetBiz, and another case where the GAO held that an agency acted improperly by determining a protestor ineligible for the SBA’s SDVOSB program without referring the issue to SBA.

The lesson presented in 347 is clear: knowing why you’re fighting is only the first step. The second step is knowing where your battle is supposed to be!

 

Veterans Appeal to Obama Administration to End VA Backlog

As every veteran knows, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) disability compensation backlog has reached alarming numbers. According to a March 2013 report by the Center for Investigative Reporting, there are nearly 900,000 claims pending at the VA. That number is expected to soon top one million.

On March 20, members of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America presented a petition to White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, calling for President Obama to “keep the promise we made to the millions of veterans who have served and sacrificed to defend our nation” by ending the benefit backlog. The petition, which includes support from a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress, now has more than 36,000 signatures.

Other means of action are urged. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also urges the removal of Allison Hickey, the VA’s under secretary of benefits. Miller is frustrated with Hickey, in part because she cannot project where the backlog will stand in 12 months, yet simultaneously promises that no veterans will be waiting 125 days or more for their benefits by 2015. This promise is also dubious in light of the fact that the current wait time for veterans filing an initial claim  is between 316 and 327 days.

This petition reflects the urgent need for real, substantive action to be taken as it relates to our nation’s veterans. While waiting for their disability compensation to be issued, many veterans face foreclosures or bankruptcy. By the time their claim is granted, they may be homeless or facing serious financial issues that could have been avoided with an expeditious resolution of a claim. Meanwhile, the VA faces absolutely no penalty for taking years to resolve a meritorious claim. If a claim is erroneously denied, even if the error is egregious or the wait time excessive, the VA is not expected to pay any type of penalty or interest for the period of time the veteran was without his benefits.

Interesting, isn’t it? That certainly isn’t the case when the situation is reversed : if a veteran forgets to pay all his taxes owed one year, when the Government eventually discovers the error, he’ll be socked with an additional amount owed.

For years, veteran organizations have loudly and forcefully complained about the backlog. Whether this recent effort will gain traction in the Obama administration is yet to be seen, but the reality is clear – the backlog is creating devastating effects on our veterans.  For more information about the efforts of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and to voice your support of their cause, visit their website here.

 

ALERT: Vulnerability in the System for Award Management (SAM) Reported

On Friday, March 15, the General Services Administration (GSA) reported a security vulnerability in the System for Award Management (SAM). For a period of time not specified, registered SAM users with entity administrator rights and delegated entity registration rights had the ability to view any entity’s registration information, including both public and non-public data at all sensitivity levels. This vulnerability was discovered on March 8th, and on March 10th the GSA implemented a software patch to close the exposure. It later sent out a mass email to all SAM registrants.

As noted in the email release, this exposed data contained identifying information, including: names; taxpayer identification numbers (TINs) including Federal Employer Identification Numbers (FEINs) and social security numbers; marketing partner information numbers; and bank account information. The GSA has not, however, specified for how long this information was viewable.

Registrants using their social security numbers instead of a TIN were identified as being at a greater risk for potential identity theft. These registrants include sole proprietorships and solo member limited liability companies. These registrants were advised to monitor their bank accounts, and to immediately contact their financial institutions if they noted any discrepancies. They were also given free access to credit monitoring services.

This security vulnerability is worrying for a number of reasons. Thousands of SAM registrants were affected by the vulnerability, and yet they were not alerted until seven days after it was discovered. Also, while the issue was reported to the GSA on March 8th, it was not resolved for two days. Last, while registered SAM users are aware of the incident, there is no way they can know whether their information was compromised. Rather, they must monitor their credit and banking information to make sure that they do not become victims of identity theft.

Who knew that agreeing to do business with the federal government included consent to be exposed to identity theft?

SAM users can access the GSA’s System for Award Management Security Vulnerability FAQ webpage here. If you would like additional background or have questions, the FAQ webpage provides a contact number that is in service from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM beginning March 18.

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Dodging a Bullet, Getting Shrapnel: How Sequestration Affects the VA

As individuals working for or dealing with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) know, the VA is exempt from the sequestration that took effect on March 1 of this year. This does not mean, however, that the VA does not feel the effects of sequestration. A hit to the Department of Defense (DoD) results in collateral damage to the VA and the veterans it supports.

What is sequestration? 

“Sequestration” is a process of automatic, largely across-the-board spending reductions under which budgetary resources are permanently canceled to enforce certain budget policy goals. It was included as an enforcement tool in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). It can also occur under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.

On March 1, 2013, sequestration occurred because a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to develop legislation to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion. Under the BCA, Congress was supposed to adopt this legislation by January 12, 2013. Because it did not, this triggered a series of automatic spending reductions. This included sequestration of mandatory spending for fiscal year (FY) 2013 through FY 2021, a one-year sequestration of discretionary spending for FY 2013, and lower discretionary spending limits for FY 2014 through FY 2021.

What departments and programs are exempt? 

Since sequestration occurred, the exemptions and special rules of Sections 255 and 256 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985 (BBEDCA, as amended in 1985) apply. Most exempt programs are mandatory, and include Social Security and Medicaid; refundable tax credits to individuals; and low-income programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income. Some discretionary programs also are exempt, including all programs administered by the VA.

A look at VA exemptions 

Under the letter of the law, the VA and its medical care programs are exempt from sequestration. This was not, however, initially clear, which resulted in concern within the VA and veteran community. Section 255 of the BBEDCA specifically excludes from sequestration all programs administered by the VA, which includes veterans’ medical care. This conflicts with Section 256(e) of the BBEDCA, which allows a maximum 2% reduction in budget authority for VA medical care for any fiscal year. To clarify the issue, on April 23, 2012, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a letter stating that “all programs administered by the VA, including Veterans’ Medicare Care, are exempt from sequestration under Section 255(b).” (Access the letter here).

The Collateral Effects on Veterans 

Despite the exemption from sequestration, both the VA and the veterans it serves will feel the effects of sequestration. This is due to the fact that support received from other agencies will lessen due to the resource strain within these agencies. This applies to the DoD in particular, which works in collaboration with the VA to meet many objectives. (About 800,000 civilian defense employees face one-day-a-week furloughs and a 20 percent dent to their paychecks, which are set to start next month). Programs operated by the VA in conjunction with other agencies will also be affected.

In addition to the direct impact on VA departments and programs, veterans will also see a reduction in services or resources due to a ripple effect from the DoD. This includes the following:

  • The Department of Labor’s VETS job-training program –  This was being revamped and has been touted by the Obama administration as a key weapon in reducing high unemployment among post- 9/11 era veterans, and it is subject to cuts.
  • Department of Labor’s employment and transition assistance programs – Acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris said last month that about 55,000 veterans and 44,000 service members would not receive employment and other transition assistance to help them find civilian jobs because of sequestration. Labor officials now say the exact number s are unknown but will amount to “tens of thousands.” In addition cuts to the Jobs for Veterans state grants program will mean an estimated 33,000 fewer veterans will be served.
  • Homeless veteran programs – A program using Housing and Urban Development (HUD) vouchers that is credited with reducing the number of homeless veterans by 17 percent since 2009 may be harmed. According to Sandra Henriquez, the assistant secretary for public housing, while the vouchers are exempt, administrative funding is being cut, which HUD fears will have a “serious effect” on the number of local housing authorities willing to accept the vouchers because they would have to make up the deficit.
  • Mental Health Counselor Availability – The number of DoD mental health counselors assisting service members returning from combat zones with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder may be cut, Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, told Congress last month.

Time will show how sequestration affects the VA and the veterans it serves. For now, however, one point is clear: the VA may have dodged a bullet, but it will suffer from the collateral damage caused by cuts to the DoD and other agencies.

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