The Trump administration and members of Congress are taking notice of how the previous administration mistreated veteran entrepreneurs.
Helping veterans is not simple, but the American people have long supported the men and women who return home after military service. Many need immediate assistance recovering from life-changing injuries. Many more need reasonable support of career goals through the unencumbered use of their earned education benefits, which help them seek careers in corporate, civic, and entrepreneurial ventures.
Our goal as a nation should be to ensure that the help we provide veterans, regardless of the programmatic form or government agency, is effective and never hurtful. Considering this goal, political leaders are starting to investigate what has become a systemic problem — a trend of veteran entrepreneurs being harmed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Often overlooked is the fact that the American veteran entrepreneur is critical to our nation’s economy and security. As our military prepares for the future, such as the Army Futures Command, we are looking to our veteran entrepreneurs to lead empathetic networks and economic opportunities for veterans and reservists. Likewise, veteran entrepreneurs are bold and industrious leaders who build businesses throughout America’s diverse communities.
Obviously, many VA employees are dedicated to serving veterans very well, but there are those who get away with abusing veterans. The regular scandalous abuses include patients dying from treatment delays, neglect, and horrible medical errors. A notable case in the Obama administration is the 1,700 veterans who waited many months for medical appointments and the delays that created horrible outcomes, including deaths.
Typically, the response by VA leaders is to invest more taxpayer dollars into employee training, which leads to another case of abuse — of a veteran entrepreneur.
Ironically, a recent case in which VA employees abused a veteran entrepreneur is the project to fix the Obama-era conference spending scandal, justified as employee training. As reported earlier, VA employees abused a veteran entrepreneur by taking credit for his innovative services to seek their promotions without paying the veteran entrepreneur for the services or proprietary software:
To make matters worse, after declining to pay the bills for these veteran entrepreneurs, hired to solve the agencies’ spending scandal and management errors, the VA then acts as an agitator and adversary to the very veterans it exists to support.
In an email to a veteran, Dr. Eric Hannel, former staff director for the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Veteran Affairs, said:
VA lacks the ability and desire of real transparency when measuring many facets of contracts made with Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSBs) and Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSBs). During my time as a congressional investigator, with VA as my primary focus, a number of veteran entrepreneurs reported inappropriate VA conduct bordering on misfeasance, malfeasance or fraud, which was subsequently substantiated by evidence. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has also identified numerous shortcomings with VA’s efforts towards Veteran Entrepreneurs over the years.
The systemic problem warrants continuous congressional attention.
Corrupt VA employees should not abuse veteran entrepreneurs — it is shameful and an embarrassment to all Americans. Thankfully, President Donald Trump nominated — and Congress will hopefully approve — two key leaders who will play a major role in stopping the abuse of veteran entrepreneurs.
Dr. Tamara Bonzanto is nominated to be the next assistant secretary for the VA Office of Accountability & Whistleblower Protection. She can establish an ombudsman who has the authority to monitor and report to Congress VA employees’ abuses that veteran entrepreneurs have seen or experienced.
Mr. James Paul Gfrerer is nominated to be the next assistant secretary for the VA Office of Information and Technology. He can manage and report to Congress from a single data inventory of all VA expenditures that are used to acquire or customize software, especially as this seems to be where VA employees are most likely to abuse veteran entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) argued on the House floor that VA needs to manage, verify, and report the measurable returns on investments (ROIs) for all expenditures. These ROIs are very appropriate requirements for the VA training business cases and all other discretionary spending by VA. Employee training and its reinforcing software are two of the largest investments taxpayers make to ensure that veterans are treated effectively.
Veterans are confident that the new VA secretary, Robert Wilkie, will stop the abuse of veteran entrepreneurs. And to ensure that taxpayers’ investments are not wasted, he will make public the ROI analyses for the discretionary programs — ensuring that these programs are not used to hurt veteran entrepreneurs but rather that they are accountable for their positive effects on our American veterans.
Christopher Neiweem is the founder of Neiweem Group and an Iraq War veteran who has testified in front of both the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate committees on issues impacting veterans’ health benefits and education as an expert witness. He has directed multiple legislative campaigns aimed at the VA to improve care for veterans and has been featured on dozens of media print and television platforms to include Fox News Channel, CNN, and Headline News.
Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.