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Are You In This VA Nightmare Too?

Have you ever been trapped in a nightmare where you run, and run, yet you always end up in the same place, with the same monster chasing you? Well, lately, that’s the exact situation of many veteran business owners, only that monster has a face – it is the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation, which has recently undergone a series of changes to effectively render the process a nightmare for all veterans who want to do set-aside business with the VA: long delays, redundant record requests, and vague citations to laws that do not exist to justify invasive and non-sensical requirements.

Monster

As an initial note to this blog, please comment if you have an anecdote to share about the new system. Perhaps, if enough folks chime in, the VA and OSBDU Executive Director Tom Leney might begin to recognize that this new piecemeal system needs to be scrapped. I can make your comment anonymous – just include a line with the request. 

Once upon a time, the CVE’s verification process was improving. It really was. There were a few snags, but it wasn’t the nightmare it now is. That nightmare is best illustrated by a case example representative of the process generally.* I am even being charitable here, as the example comes from a company wholly-owned by two service-disabled veterans with no outside employment, which has been reverified on multiple occasions (“Company”). Of all applicants, these folks should have encountered the least amount of trouble. Yet, here is what has happened so far:

  • Early January – Company submits VetBiz reverification application.
  • Mid-March – After ten weeks (the current wait time), CVE sends Company a boilerplate document called a “Pre-Application Questionnaire” that asks a series of eligibility questions. It makes no sense that this is a “Pre-Application Questionnaire,” given that the application is already submitted; also, since the questions bear on eligibility, wouldn’t it be a better use of everyone’s time for companies to complete this prior to submitting an application and wasting time if the company is ineligible? Still, Company complies and submits answers.
  • Mid-March – As the Company’s representative, I call the CVE to check status, advising that the Company’s verification period is expiring shortly and that they wish to bid on a VA set-aside contract after that date. Their examiner advises me that the documentation is “perfect” and she is not expecting any requests.
  • Late March – After radio silence, we receive a document request for at least six documents, which we comply with immediately.
  • Early April – The CVE asks for more documentation. Almost all of this documentation is necessitated only by the fact that the CVE has taken over three months to process the application and therefore it is now out of date. Whether a document is “current” is supposed to be determined as of the date of the application. Effectively, the CVE is penalizing the Company for its own delays; however, the Company has no choice but to comply.
  • Mid-April – The Company receives a request stating: “Due to new Federal Regulations, amendments to Operating Agreements must be within the Operating Agreement itself. . .This Operating Agreement must reflect the current date.”  First, I called the CVE and a manager confirmed that there is no “federal regulation;” this new requirement is an arbitrary CVE requirement. Second, state law generally does not require amendments to be effected this way, but the CVE is now making this company re-do their entire operating agreement to comply with its own arbitrary and random requirement. Third, by requiring the operating agreement to reflect the current date, this compromises company actions/changes because the date will be different than that of the actual effective date of the amendment. Fourth, this creates more work for the Company because it is forced to rewrite corporate documents that are perfectly good in the first place.

So, that’s where we are. An utter nightmare, and it appears all due to the system “improvements” effected in September/October of 2016. You will note that none of the above is specific to Company – these are generic issues everyone will encounter.

As an attorney who deals with many applications and VetBiz issues, I am baffled – yes, I am extremely frustrated for myself and veteran business owners who are battling the system (and note – this should not be a battle!), but also for the poor CVE examiners who are given convoluted, inconsistent, unproductive, and incorrect guidance to process applications for inclusion in the VA’s Veterans First Contracting Program. How is it that it was getting better several years ago, and now such huge steps backward have been taken?

The current status of every CVE examiner due to system "improvements."

The current status of every CVE examiner and veteran applicant due to system “improvements.”

It looks like we’re all stuck in the nightmare. So, how do we get out? Perhaps Executive Director, Tom Leney, might want to chime in here. After all, I understand he implemented the new system. And remember, Mr. Leney, when you attended my VetBiz presentation during a conference? You stood up and stated that the entirety of the content was accurate. I don’t want want to fight you. After all, both of our missions is to help veteran business owners. Right?

"No, Mr. Leney! I don't want to fight you!"

“No, Mr. Leney! I don’t want to fight you!”

 

*”Company,” while anonymous, approved the telling of its nightmarish tale.

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

11 Responses to “Are You In This VA Nightmare Too?”

  1. As a veteran, I think the VA should do their best to make this process easy and painless for those deserving of the recognition as a SDVOSB. Of course, I do respect the need to ensure that all submissions are correct, timely and accurate. My dissatisfaction stems from the fact that legitimate businesses that have a history (2 previous certifications) are being treated like a vagrant off the streets. Simply put, VetBiz could verify a simplified application against the application originally submitted to look for unapproved changes/modifications that would require further explanation or render the Company ineligible. This would save a significant amount of taxpayer money and ensure deserving veterans are treated appropriately.

  2. Finally, after 2 1/2 years we were reverified. Sounds crazy I know but the truth. We had to resubmitt multiple docs over and over again. We went fro 9 to 3 employees. Now we must fight to find some decent workers. The only good thing about this process is that we were given 3 years instead of two. We are starting all over again.

  3. Ugh, almost makes you wonder if the process is worth the hassle? Glad they have people like you in their corner!

  4. I think that any business that missed out on submitting an offer on a set-aside because of unwarranted delays in getting certified/recertified should look into why the delay and who got the award. While it may seem unlikely that anyone would slow leak a business to prevent them from submitting an offer, its not impossible.

  5. Sarah, you did a masterful job of capturing the travails of one company in the CVE revertification process. I would add just a few personal observations:
    — You are presumed fraudulent upon beginning the CVE verification process. Or, at least that is how I was made to feel. That is entirely inappropriate.
    — Prior to the CVE verification “forced march”, it was discovered that 8 of 10 firms claiming SDVOSB status were fraudulent. At that point, my legitimate SDVOSB company had a chance of doing VA set-aside business even if I was competing against fraudulent companies. Under the current CVE verification process, I have zero chance. I submitted for verification in November. Here is it April and I am still not verified.
    — Even though I submitted all the required documents, the reviewer asked for many of the same documents again. That is unacceptable?
    — The verifier turnaround times for submission (and resubmission of the same documents) is unrealistic. It is the army “hurry up and wait” syndrome revisited.
    — Prior to November, I had completed the rigorous California certification process. Why can’t the VA accept that process as an approved reciprocal, or at least just require some additional paperwork and not the entire package. Give us a deserved break.

  6. I recently overheard a discussion by several veteran advocates where they said that the CVE regulations are a work of fiction. The CVE process changes several times a year. All this means is that CVE quoted statistics have absolutely no meaning.

    They commented, as you point out, that the CVE problem is self-inflicted by creating incorrect and unnecessary requirements. Do you know anything about SBA comments regarding CVE’s regulations? That seemed to be an important foundation of their arguments, but I can’t find anything about this.

    Two of the folks pointed out that CVE decisions and processes directly contradict policies published on the OSDBU website. Again, I can’t find anything, but these guys really seemed to know what they were talking about. Can you help clarify?

  7. Despite being re-verified multiple times since 2008, and with virtually no change in our operations, we had this exact same experience. We had to engage our congressman and senator, and the SBA, to try and get them to quit harassing us with duplicative document requests and putting outstanding contract awards at risk while they dragged their feet for months. We seriously had to reconsider whether it was worth the aggravation and stress of going through it again. Quite frankly, we’re still on the fence for next time but it seems that more agencies are using the verification as a first screen on eligibility and we don’t want to get screened out of opportunities due to our frustration. I truly hope they figure this out soon or go ahead and transfer the verification process to the SBA. I’m not a big fan of the SBA either but at least they have a history of processing status and have a well-defined appeals process.

  8. I’m sorry for the folks who have had bad experiences, but we were re-verified on 11/14/2016, and the process was no more difficult than any of our previous re-verifications.

    It’s the only way to participate in the VA Vets First Program, and COs from other agencies may give CVE verification (unofficial) consideration when evaluating SDVOSBs and VOSBs.

    I’m old enough to remember when veteran owned businesses were barely an afterthought, much less officially recognized by the government, so MY preference is to let VA continue to handle the verification process for veterans.

    • If you were reverified on 11/14/2016, that would mean you were subject to the old system, since they implemented this in September/October (i.e., you would have already been going through the process when it was implemented so they’d keep you at old status quo). Also, I understand that many new examiners have been added to the mix, which would contribute to the delays as they all get up to speed. But I’m glad to hear that your verification went smoothly, and now you have three years until the next one.

  9. Submitted for re-verification in Jan and after a long wait I was finally contacted in Mar that they were missing some items. after being sent im back to nothing again awaiting for them to decide if I qualify after being certified twice before.

    The other major issue is if you do it early and get certified your two years start from the time of the new certification and not appended to your existing time remaining on your old certification. So you end up losing time.

  10. Sarah,

    Well Written and thank you for standing up for our Veterans.
    My story begins back in 2011 when I first entered into the verification process. Believe it or not, My company has finally been verified. IN 2017!!! That is right kids, it took that long…
    One thing is for sure, the process has come a long way from that day 5 years ago when I found myself banging on a windowless door in a dank hallway at VA building downtown DC. I had registered and submitted my request for verification but received no response. I tried calling, emailing and finally decided to take a trip to the VA themselves. Eventually, standing with my DD-214 and my disability paperwork in hand, a representative emerged. She promptly began to lecture me as to what I was asking for by being certified and to what the VA was “giving me” by doing so… Needless to say, it was a hurtful and intolerable moment, having a civilian employee look me in the eye and tell me what she and the VA were going to “give” me. I have served my country honorably, in combat with multiple tours and documented disabilities. You are not “giving” me anything. This attitude has taken many different forms but set the tone that has remined throughout this entire process.
    I agree that there are false applications and people pretending to be what they are not but this is no excuse for the constant accusations and negative treatment you receive as if you are lying from the start. Veterans are proud, I do not believe the VA understands how this attitude makes us feel, we gave selflessly and all we ask in return is for our rights to be honored and our honor to be respected. I can’t say it enough, you are not “GIVING” us anything. The SDVOSB set-aside is unique, it is earned, unlike any other, regardless of gender, race, location or economic status.
    Let’s progress a few years. Admittedly, I gave up for a while since the FAR dictates what a SDVOSB is and not the VA, I developed a “$^#* them” attitude. Who needs them when I know I am a Disabled Veteran and I have the documentation to prove it… Forward we went… We decided to pick this back up again in 2015, we had grown based on success. My company was 30+ strong with multiple offices in separate states with a complete executive team and me at the helm in the CEO position. You would think all this wonderful structure would make the process easier. Boy was I wrong. This led into round after round of accusations to the validity of my business and my ownership. “How can you be in charge if you don’t you sign every check?”, “How can you be in charge if you don’t you sign every contract or renewal?”. “How can you possibly manage multiple offices in different states?”, “why does your junior (25%) partner have signature authority if he is a non-veteran?”. And the list goes on….
    The VA could not seem to grasp the concept of business and business operations. We provided signature cards, by-laws, letters of authority payroll, agreements, contracts and the kitchen sink, all showing how my CFO does finance, my contracts officer does contracts, my regional managers manage their locations, blah, blah, blah. I even went as far as to explain how I run this business as I did in the Marine Corps, I have my commanders and I trust them to do their duties as prescribed by my guidance and keep tabs by daily and weekly brifings. Nothing worked. One mentally exhausted evening I turned to Dr. Google and asked for: “help with CVE VIP process”. Dr. Google prescribed Sarah Schauerte a lawyer specializing in helping Vets. I sent an email off to her with the latest round of ridiculous questions that I could not satisfy and asked for any advice or help. I was amazed when I received a prompt call from her not only willing but excited to help me out. She is passionate and knowledgeable and I truly felt for the first time in many years that this nightmare was going to end. Sarah helped me rapidly respond (oh yeah, the amount of information requested with crazy short time lines is another interesting point) with the letters of explanation we needed to get through the process… 2 weeks later we were done….
    Once again the Government has created a pay to play program, much like getting on GSA. It is not possible to navigate the waters without hiring a professional to get you through it… The VA needs to work with and for the veterans going through this process and not against…. As we have all seen in the Military and surrounding government, to many people abuse their little piece of power and this is just another example.

    Good luck to all going down this road…

    Receiving my verification was pretty much as exciting as someone telling me I had blood in my veins after I almost bled out trying to prove it.

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