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Veteran Owned

There is a community of men and women in our nation that take great pride in all that they do. The members of this group can be recognized by the way that they walk a little straighter, with their fists balled at their sides. They never lock their knees when standing for long periods of time. When members of this community recognize another member, they often feel an instant bond with one another. These men and women live among us. They are our parents, our siblings, our cousins, our neighbors and our friends. They are the Veterans of the US armed services.

Already proven to have the courage needed to answer the call to duty, Veterans are also armed with a confidence that stems from their completion of extensive training.  These attributes, when teamed with their accelerated life experience, help to distinguish Veterans from other civilians. Veterans are leaders and stalwart members in their communities.  Their courage, confidence, training, experience and leadership abilities empower Veterans to not shy away from the trials and tribulations of business ownership. Instead, they attack entrepreneurship with the same dutiful service that they gave their country.

According to the Small Business Administration’s task force on Veterans Small Business Development, Veterans are 45% more likely to start their own business. The SBA also claims that Veteran Entrepreneurs own 2.4 million businesses, roughly 10% of the businesses in the nation. That number could even be as high as 5.5 million.

Any person can dream up an idea and create a business from it; that doesn’t mean that their business will be successful. Having a sound business plan and sticking to that plan is what often determines whether or not a business will succeed. Veteran Entrepreneurs are often successful because they won’t make any move without a plan. Veterans were trained to gather intelligence, develop a strategy, and then follow the plan, only modifying when necessary, in order to complete a mission.

Like the Veterans themselves, their businesses are usually more disciplined, more ethical, more goal-oriented and more successful. Americans should make it a point to support, promote and patronize Veteran-owned businesses. Veteran Entrepreneurs and their businesses positively affect the communities and the marketplace they inhabit. Veteran Entrepreneurs and Veteran Businesses promote the “can do” attitude that embodies the American way of life. Veteran Entrepreneurship could even help boost the current economy. According to the SBA, Veteran-owned businesses generated $1.2 trillion in receipts, and employed nearly 5.8 million people for fiscal year 2012.

VA Implements New Verifying Program

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vets first

Veteran Entrepreneurs and Disabled Veterans looking to start their own businesses have sought assistance, advice & funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) since its official formation in 1930.  The VA gained its authority to aid and assist Veteran Entrepreneurs with obtaining government contracts through the “Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006”. This legislation was enacted by congress in order to expand and improve benefits for Veterans, Disabled Veterans and their survivors and dependants. Recently, under this statute, the VA has created the Veterans First Contracting Program.

Section 502 of the act establishes the VA’s role for setting goals for the participation of  Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB’s) , and Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSB’s) in procurement contracts. And Section 503 establishes that the VA will grant priority to SDVOSB/VOSB‘s that meet requirements set forth by the VA.

As part of the Veterans First Contracting Program, the VA has made one of its participation requirements to be the entry of the SDVOSB/VOSB into its small business database. To ensure that this requirement is met, the VA is making entry into its database part of their verification process. And in order to qualify for participation in the VA Veterans First Contracting Program, eligible business owners must first be verified.

Along with adding businesses into their database, the VA has implemented a new procurement hierarchy which places their highest priority with SDVOB followed by VOSB. In the hierarchy, these businesses are followed by businesses in the Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program, Woman-Owned Small Business, and then all other small businesses. This procurement hierarchy is an extension of VA’s mission to care for Veterans.

In order to prevent Veteran Entrepreneurs from being disqualified for VA assistance solely due to incorrect/incomplete applications, the VA has made the VA SDVOSB/VOSB Verification Application Guide available on their website. The VA has also developed a Verification Assistance Program designed to help Veterans understand the Verification policy and walk them through the process. The goals of the programs in these links are to help reduce the risk of denial due to lack of understanding and misinterpretation of the new regulations. Veteran Entrepreneurs can also find step-by-step instructions in the VA’s Verification Process Briefing.

vet owned

Effective September 30, 2013, The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will utilize the rights given to the VA under the “Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006” (Public Law 109-461); which authorizes the VA as the final say on all acquisition protests as to whether a company is a service-disabled veteran small business, a veteran-owned small business or not.

On Sep. 30, the VA issued an  Interim Final Rule into the Federal Register which states that the VA would no longer cede the authority to decide status protests, which determined whether a business is a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) or Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB), to the Small Business Administration (SBA). Instead, the VA stated the decision to remain in charge of deciding status protests would be under the VA’s control.

Also under the interim final rule, the decision authority will now fall under the authority of the director of the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE). Formerly, that authority was granted to the director of the Office of Small and Disadvantage Business Utilization (OSDBU). Now, the OSDBU only will have authority over status appeals after the CVE gives applicants their initial decision.

According to the previous interim rule, put in place back in 2009, the VA and SBA were supposed to come to an interagency agreement as to the process for status protests and appeals. But the two agencies couldn’t reach an acceptable agreement and VA decided to retain the task.

The oversight of the status of service-disabled and veteran-owned small businesses has been the subject to debate and controversy since the pervious interim final rule was established in 2009. There are many critics of the VA’s handling of the status certification program, saying that there are vulnerabilities in the program that could lead to the misuse and abuse of the system, fraud and even righteous would-be recipients being excluded from the program. Veterans have called the application and appeals process burdensome and frustrating.

Under the new rule, the VA believes that it is improving the process by adopting procedures that are similar to what the SBA uses to solve status protests for the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) program.

The VA will be accepting comments through the month of November. Written comments may be submitted through; by mail or hand-delivery to: Department of Veterans Affairs, c/o Director, Regulation Policy and Management (02REG),  810 Vermont Avenue NW. Room 1068,  Washington, DC 20420 , or by fax to (202) 273-9026.

Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response to “RIN 2900-AM92-VA Acquisition Regulation: Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned and Veteran-Owned Small Business Status Protests.” Copies of comments received will be available for public inspection in the Office of Regulation Policy and Management, Room 1068, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday (except holidays).

Please call (202) 461-4902 for an appointment. (This is not a toll-free number.)

US Army Major

U.S. Army Maj. William J. (Bill) Puopolo was named the recipient of a $30, 000 Veterans’ Pathway to Business Success grant. Puopolo was deployed to Iraq in 2006 and to Afghanistan in 2010. He was injured during both campaigns, and was awarded the Bronze Star and a Combat Action Badge.

Originally from Boston, Puopolo relocated to the Tampa Bay area to be near his sister and mother. It was there that he decided to follow his dream of starting his own small business. So Puopolo utilized the knowledge he had gained in the military to launch Verissimo Global, a communications and networking company.

Puopolo started Verissimo Global before his 2010 deployment. When his unit was activated, he had to put his business on hold. Now his sacrifice is being rewarded. Puopolo was named the recipient of a $30,000 Veterans’ Pathway to Business Success grant this summer. The nonprofit organization awards grants, which have no fees, no interest and no payback requirements, to combat veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, who wish to start or grow their own businesses in Florida.

Puopolo said the funding will allow him and his staff, all disabled veterans, to attain certifications and education that are critical to the company’s success.

Puopolo has a Masters degree in Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts, and he completed Florida State University’s (FSU) Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV).

“Bill distinguished himself at the EBV program,” EBV Program Director & FSU Professor Randy Blass said. “He engaged fellow students and instructors on a wide range of topics, and was more than willing to share his knowledge with other student veterans. Many EBV participants sought Bill’s consideration and still refer to him today for advice and motivation. He is a wonderful example of what we are trying to accomplish with our entrepreneurial training.”

Puopolo still serves as a reserve officer in the Vermont National Guard, and teaches an online course once a week in Information Operations.

Wounded Marine

Kevin Blanchard was a combat engineer in the Marine Corps from 2001-2006. In 2005, while serving in Iraq, Blanchard lost one of his legs below the knee, due to a roadside bomb explosion.

When his service officially ended in 2006, Blanchard was faced with the challenge of transitioning into civilian life as a Wounded Veteran. Blanchard had no idea what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. And with his injuries, he was not sure what options were available to him.

Blanchard said that he tried a lot of things out and gained as much experience as he could in a number of different fields. The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment’s transition cell provided him with information about education, vocational training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

“The regiment prepares wounded, ill and injured Marines for opening their own business by setting them up with such resources as financial planning guidance, Entrepreneur Boot Camps, connecting them with a mentor, arranging shadow opportunities and more,” said Marine Corps Maj. Brian Bilski, the Officer in Charge of the transition cell,. “The goal is to ensure that Marines are confident about transitioning out of the service and into [their] own successful franchise or independent start up.”

Initially, Blanchard wanted to become a co-owner of an eco-friendly roofing company. But he discovered that his passion was in helping other former service members understand what resources are available to them so that they can start their own successful businesses.

Blanchard’s passion lead to a job as a project coordinator at the International Franchise Association, working on a program called VetFran. The VetFran program provides information, education, links to potential partners, discounts and access to the VetFran mentor network.

The purpose of the program is to build confidence and financial stability, he explained. “You have to trust in yourself,” Blanchard said. “It is not always easy to start a business venture yourself. Have confidence in your abilities and be fearless, because you are taking a shot in the dark.”

His advice to other wounded, ill or injured Marines looking to start their own business or franchise is to, “stay focused, identify a long-term vision as clearly as possible, and communicate that vision frequently to your team.”

In addition to his work with the VetFran program, Blanchard also helps coordinate trade missions for member companies around the globe.