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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published new guidelines that took effect on October 1, 2018 for verification of Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs) and Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs),

Under the changes, the VA continues to determine whether individuals are veterans or service-disabled veterans, and is responsible for verification of applicant firms for listing in the Vendor Information Pages (VIP) database.

Responsibility for adjudicating challenges of the status based upon issues of ownership and control is now to be determined by administrative judges at Small Business Administration’s (SBA’s) Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA).

These newly implemented rules are an attempt to resolve inconsistencies between SBA and VA regulations that have led to conflicting decisions about a company’s qualification for set-asides.

The standard for reviewing a VOSB or SDVOSB’s eligibility is “totality of the circumstances,” with the burden of proving eligibility falling on the applicant. Decisions based on an applicant’s failure to meet any veteran eligibility criteria are not subject to appeal; however, an applicant can re-apply and submit a new application six months after denial.

The changes also clarify the process for removal from the VIP database and expand the reasons for removal to include having tax liens and unresolved debts. Other removal criteria include being found guilty of or involved in criminally-related matters as well as debarment of any individual owning or controlling the business concern, as well as submitting false information to VA.

The VA is not providing an additional level of review, but merely acting on determinations issued by courts or other administrative bodies. Further, bankruptcy has been added as a changed circumstance that can lead to a contractor’s removal from the VIP database.

The new rules clearly define VA’s role in determining whether individuals are veterans or service-disabled veterans, and responsibility to determine the ownership interests of those individuals now ultimately falls on SBA, subject to appeal to OHA.

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. military used Agent Orange to clear plants and trees during the Vietnam War. A number of serious illnesses have been linked to exposure, including Leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, various cancers, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease. Researchers with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found have found that enough evidence exists to also link hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy (MGUS) to Agent Orange exposure.

Their report, entitled Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 11 (2018), found that sufficient evidence exists that links exposure to at least one of the hazardous chemicals with hypertension and MGUS The hypertension finding is an upgrade from their 2014 report and MGUS is a newly considered condition.

The findings clear the way for veterans with hypertension and MGUS to have easier access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) called on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to add hypertension and MGUS to the list of diseases presumed to be caused by Agent Orange.

“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Agent Orange made veterans sick, it made their children sick, and it brought pain and suffering and premature death to many,” VFW National Commander B.J. Lawrence said in a statement. “We now call on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to use his authority and recognize the science in the report to swiftly add these two illnesses to the presumptive list so that these veterans can finally receive the assistance they earned and deserve.”

Wilkie has previously opposed legislation that would provide Agent Orange benefits to tens of thousands of Navy veterans who served on ships off the coast during the Vietnam War and have been diagnosed with MGUS.

Veterans who served in Vietnam, in Thailand or along the Korean DMZ are encouraged to contact a VFW Service Officer to discuss whether they are eligible to file a VA claim for Agent Orange exposure.

By Debbie Gregory.

The VA Disability Compensation Rates will increase 2.8 percent in 2019. This is the largest increase since 2012. These increases are tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), which measures a broad sampling of the cost of consumer goods and expenses. The CPI is compared to the previous year’s numbers. If there is an increase, a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) is made. If there is no increase, there is no COLA. The COLA affects about one of every five Americans, including Social Security recipients, disabled veterans, federal retirees and retired military members. In 2018, the COLA was 2.0 percent; in 2017, retirees saw a 0.3 percent increase. There was no increase at all in 2016; the last time COLA increased by more than 2.8 percent was 2012, when compensation rates got a 3.6 percent hike.

The VA has strange computation rules that make working out the exact rates impossible. Therefore, the final amounts are not yet available but we can approximate the 2019 benefits based on the cost of living increase. These benefits are paid the first of each month for the prior month. Below is an unofficial approximation of the increases for various levels of VA Disability just for the Veteran and not including spouses or dependents:

10 percent – $140.05
20 percent – $276.84
30 percent – $428.83
40 percent – $617.73
50 percent – $879.36
60 percent – $1,113.86
70 percent – $1,403.71
80 percent – $1,631.69
90 percent – $1,833.62
100 percent – $3,057.13

We are grateful to every Veteran who served and sacrificed.

By Debbie Gregory.

On May 17th, the Department of Veterans Affairs inked a 10-year, $10 billion contract with Kansas City, Missouri-based Cerner Corp. to adopt the same commercial electronic health records system as the Pentagon.

“President Trump has made very clear to me that he wants this contract to do right by both Veterans and taxpayers, and I can say now without a doubt that it does,” said Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie. He continued, “Signing this contract today is an enormous win for our nation’s veterans. It puts in place a modern IT system that will support the best possible health care for decades to come. That’s exactly what our nation’s heroes deserve.”

The department received nearly $800 million in funding from Congress for fiscal 2018 to begin the contract.

“For too long, service members transitioning from the Department of Defense to VA healthcare have been unable to take their medical records with them,” said Rep. Tim Walz, ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Cerner President Zane Burke said in a statement that the company is honored to have the opportunity to improve the health care experience for our nation’s veterans.

“The VA has a long history of pioneering health care technology innovation, and we look forward to helping deliver high-quality outcomes across the continuum of care,” said Burke. “We expect this program to be a positive catalyst for interoperability across the public and private health care sectors, and we look forward to moving quickly with organizations across the industry to deliver on the promise of this mission.”

 

By Debbie Gregory.

Vets First, a policy that gives preference to veteran-owned small businesses, has long been circumvented by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is in direct defiance of orders from Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court.

The program was created for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and expanded the Service-Disabled Veteran contracting program for VA procurements. It was designed to ensure that legitimately owned and controlled VOSBs and SDVOSBs are able to compete for VA VOSB and SDVOSB set-aside and are credited by VA’s large prime contractors for subcontract plan achievements.

In Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, the court ruled that not only was the VA disregarding VETS First, but in moving forward, the department’s “rule of two” should be used for all VA procurements.

The “rule of two” states a contracting officer of the VA, “shall award contracts on the basis of competition restricted to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans if the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans will submit offers and that the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.”

In order to be in compliance, the VA must:

Revise its acquisition policies and training to ensure better oversight of its contracting activities;
Improve the ability for veteran-owned small businesses to obtain Federal Supply Schedule contracts for the products the VA buys; and
Discontinue its use of contract vehicles that do not contain veteran-owned small businesses.

With more than 7,000 veteran and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses in the U.S. that have met the Vets First criteria, there is no excuse for the not to award contracts to these businesses.

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