Legal Meets Practical: Accessible Solutions

Bashing the VA Will Not Fix It

Last Monday, my husband and I packed up our car (and the dog, of course, as he is the Legal Meets Practical mascot!) and headed for Norfolk for the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s (NVSBC) annual conference (VETS 16). I spent three days not only participating in the various conference activities (and presenting on VA VetBiz verification and bid protests), but also observing the crowd and listening to the NVSBC discuss its role in the procurement process. This emphasized it has a role – a big one. The NVSBC is highly respected by the same agencies its members get business from, as demonstrated by the following example:

Every veteran business owner has heard of Kingdomware. (And if you haven’t, just go here).  The Thursday before last, the Supreme Court handed down a unanimous verdict in favor of Kingdomware (and veterans), which means the VA must show preference to veteran businesses competing on federal schedule contracts. When this happened, Tom Leney, the Director of the the VA’s Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization (i.e, a VA head honcho), called Scott Denniston, Executive Director of the NVSBC, and asked to speak at VETS 16 (which was the following week). Mr. Leney had also attended VETS 15. Mr. Leney ultimately could not attend this year because of Congressional hearings, and Scott defended this cancellation during a conference luncheon, explaining that Mr. Leney has to testify as the small business representative before Congress as our advocate. Love him or hate him, Mr. Leney is “our guy,” and Scott did a wonderful job of  conveying that point.

This is why the procurement and government officials respect the NVSBC. For some groups or individuals, the VA can’t do anything right, ever, and that kind of attitude is counterproductive. The NVSBC, however, has always been good about recognizing the limitations of government and working with officials to make things better. For example, even though the four-year Kingdomware saga was extremely frustrating (maddening), the NVSBC respectfully and professionally presented its position (the NVSBC submitted an amicus curiae – “friend of the court” – brief to the Supreme Court), all the while zealously advocating on behalf of veterans.

Here’s the point. As veteran business owners, or veterans, it’s easy to get angry at the VA. It is a fact, not an opinion, that our veterans deserve better than what the VA has been delivering. But here’s the thing – if a veteran’s recourse is to rant and rave via a LinkedIN post constituting fifty lines, or to write angry letters to his Congressperson, bashing the VA, it doesn’t help. Not because what is being said isn’t true, but because it isn’t productive.

The NVSBC is productive. It celebrates the good work agencies do (at the award luncheon at VETS 16, it handed out awards to agencies and primes that met small business goals); and when it has an issue, it addresses it rationally and professionally. That is why Tom Leney personally reaches out to Scott Denniston, as opposed to dodging his calls. The NVSBC’s view might not always be aligned with the VA’s, but because it is respectful and ultimately has the same goals as the VA (serving the veterans!), it is an organization with weight and deserved influence in the federal arena.

If you want to be a veteran advocate, the best way to serve that purpose is by trying to work with the VA and not against it. I try to do that (despite my occasional colorful blog posts), and I feel I get farther because of it. As hard as it may be – and feel free to say what you want to others who understand your VA-related frustration – there’s no denying you get more by contributing to the solution rather than merely identifying the problem. It’s true with anything, and it’s true with the VA.

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11 Responses to “Bashing the VA Will Not Fix It”

  1. well said!

  2. Excellent article. Being nice and offering a solution has served me well at the VA since 1998.

  3. Good article, of course VA has to want to meet in the middle as well and work with the Vet’s. Thanks

  4. I agree with you 100%. I read that bashing last night and from my standpoint I was furious when I read that VA smashing article. Maybe I am one of the lucky Service Disabled Veterans in that I am served by one of the finest VA Medical Centers in the Country in Ann Arbor Michigan and have been for 11 years. I am a victim of agent Orange and everything imaginable wrong with me that it can cause. 9 years ago I had to have a quad heart-by-pass and could not have received any better care in any civilian hospital. I might add that I am fortunate because I had the option to use Medicare instead of VA and chose to use the VA. I am 75 years old and my heart is better today than it has been in the last 20-30 years.
    Just last week (Wednesday) I was diagnosed by my Primary Care Physician (Dr. Michael Clay, Deputy Associate Chief of Staff for Education, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, University of Michigan Medical School))as having cancer in my Lymph Nodes. While I was there in his office he immediately called the Hematology/Oncology Lab and set-up a Biopsy to confirm his diagnosis. The Biopsy went out that afternoon and the results came back the following Monday as positive for Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma Cancer in my neck Lymph Nodes. Dr. Clay immediately set-up an appointment with the VA/UofM Hematology/Ophthalmology Clinic for the following Wednesday. I was thoroughly amazed when I walked in for my first meeting along with my wife and son and found a Team of Oncologists including a Senior Fellow Oncologist, Dr. Devata who heads-up the Lymphoma Oncology Department and is the only dedicated Lymphoma Specialist in Michigan (and possibly the entire Cancer Treatment system nationwide) who advised me that she would personally be handling my case along with a Blood Research Doctor, Dr. Schaefer. The Team also consisted of two Cancer Specialists Nurses and a Pharmacist specifically assigned to my case. They spent three hours with me reviewing my history and explaining the entire process that they would be implementing for me.The first step was to do a dual bone marrow biopsy to make sure the cancer had not reached my bones. The Blood Specialist Doctor personally conducted these tests the following day (Thursday). They put a priority on the test results which normally takes two weeks and we had them back the following Monday. Simultaneously they made arrangements to have me set-up for an overnight stay at the 5th floor Cancer Treatment Wing to have my first Chemo treatment that Monday night. I had two of the best Nurses personally attending to me all night long administering the Chemo Treatment (5-6 hours) and I was out the next day and home doing just fine. I might add that when I was admitted to my room Monday my Oncologist along with her entire team was in my room within 15 minutes after checking in going over everything again and making sure I was comfortable and being taken care of. They also got me a private room where my wife was permitted to stay with me through the entire process. I am presently in my third day of the Chemo Treatment Process and cannot praise the VA/UofM Partnership enough. I am one Service Disabled Veteran who is very happy and extremely satisfied with the VA System Care and can testify that my life has been extended by at least 10-20 years or more because of them!!! Hurray for the VA System!

    • Thank you very much for sharing your story. And I’m curious – what story/article were you referring to in the beginning of your comment?

  5. It was nice seeing you at the conference, and mostly I agree with what you said… but sometimes bitching makes you feel better! 😛

  6. Can’t wait to read about how your talk/lecture went!! 🙂



    You want to do something productive, then find the VETS with the NAICS for the awarded contracts on the VA website and Protest them all.

    That guy is a “company” man and has been part of the theft of Veteran Owned Small Business contracts ( SDVOSB and VOSB alike )

    FIND the FSS contracts list on the VA site and see to it that if the awardee is not a Veteran Owned Business – file a GAO Protest against it and get it shut down.

    PURGING the VA of its entrenched white collar criminal actors will cause change. McDonald must be the first to go followed by this 2 faced Office of Small Business Development guy who failed.

  8. my two cents….. we pretty much know what is wrong with Veteran Services….. Participation and engaging positively is how change comes about, Advocate for change from the inside….. change starts with the individual who is willing to commit to positive solutions, patience and perseverance are the key ….complaining and inaction have no effect on the status quo…. go to work and or volunteer for the VA….

    • I agree (obviously, given the article), but I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for the good folks within the VA. I’ve worked with many VA officials who truly care about the mission and what they’re doing (and go above and beyond), but at the same time they have so many bureaucratic constraints that are unique to government. It’s not as simple as “here’s a problem and I have a solution;” the mechanisms aren’t there to actually effect change. The VA’s MO is to spend eight months doing a study and writing a memo with soft guidance.

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