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VA Tiered Evaluation: Loophole or Solution to Kingdomware?

For veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”) that hold a Federal Supply Schedule (“FSS”), the 2016 Supreme Court Kingdomware decision was supposed to be a major coup against the VA. The Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision to hold that the “Rule of Two” is mandatory – when it comes to orders off the FSS, contracting officers are required to set them aside for VOSBs if, after conducting market research, they have a “reasonable expectation that two or more. . . VOSBS. . . will submit offers and that the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.” 38 U.S.C. 8127(d). The VA utilizes the hierarchy set forth at VAAR Subpart 819.70, which entails first attempting to set aside a contract for SDVOSBs, then for VOSBs, then small businesses, and finally, other-than-small businesses.

And what is “market research?” According to a July 2016 policy memorandum that was issued to implement Kingdomware, contracting officers must:

  • Search the VetBiz VIP database by NAICS code.
  • Determine if two or more SDVOSBs/VOSBs are listed by the NAICS code.
  • Determine if these identified SDVOSBs/VOSBs are capable of performing the work and likely to submit an offer/quote at a fair and reasonable price that offers the best value to the government.

Ever since the Kingdomware decision came down, VOSBs have been complaining that the VA has not been following it. On the VA’s end, the complaint is that it can’t get a “fair and reasonable price” by setting aside solicitations for VOSBs and SDVOSBs.

Now, the VA’s solution is tiered evaluation, which it presented at the National Veteran Small Business Engagement in December and expounded upon in a June 20 town hall presentation held by Tom Leney, the executive director of the VA’s Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization.

As explained by Mr. Leney, tiered evaluation is used to ensure that the VA receives a “fair and reasonable price” and to prevent the time and expense of re-soliciting a contract (due to not receiving two or more offers from SDVOSBs or VOSBs, or receiving a fair and reasonable price).

There are three different types of tiered evaluation, all of which utilize the same process for evaluating offers: the VA will open competition to all categories identified (noting that it is utilizing tiered evaluation), and consider offers by order of preference, moving down to the next tier if it is unable to make an award at a fair and reasonable price:

  • Tiered evaluations limited to SDVOSBs and VOSBs.
  • Tiered evaluations limited to SDVOSBs, VOSBs, and small businesses.
  • Tiered evaluations including large business concerns.

This makes sense, to a degree. If the VA is encountering trouble making an award at a “fair and reasonable price,” it saves the VA time and effort to use tiered evaluation. However, as Mr. Leney pointed out, whether a price is “fair and reasonable” is determined by comparing it to the Independent Government Cost Estimate (“IGCE”). Okay fine, but what about that IGCE? What if it’s out of date? What if the scope of work has changed? What if it’s two percent less than the price offered by an SDVOSB? Can the VA make the award? What about three percent? Where are the guidelines for evaluating prices compared with the IGCE? If the veteran companies’ prices are one percent higher than the IGCE, can the VA use tiered evaluation to justify making the award to a small business or a large business instead?

Mr. Leney also noted that if found that the IGCE is not realistic, the VA could then cancel the solicitation. However, there was no information provided as to how the VA would make that determination or the path forward.

If the intent and effect is truly to prevent re-solicitations due to the VA setting aside work to SDVOSBs and VOSBs but ultimately not being able to make the award, great. But right now, tiered evaluation is concerning because of the lack of firm guidance or parameters for the VA to follow. And without firm guidance or parameters, the worry is that tiered evaluation is more of a loophole than a solution.

What do you think?

Like this cake, VA tiered evaluation has four layers: SDVOSB, VOSB, small, and other-than-small.

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

 

Five Expenses Every Startup Business Should Consider

One issue I see small businesses dealing with across the board is figuring out what expenses are worth it. Do you really need to hire a registered agent to accept service of process? (Generally, no). Do you need commercial office space? (It depends on your business). As a startup business cognizant of the bottom line, it’s important to know what’s worth it and what isn’t; however, many times it’s impossible to differentiate until you’ve already spent the dough.

From my experience, both as a small business owner myself and one who deals almost exclusively with small businesses, here are five expenditures every small business should consider:

  1. A virtual office – Many small businesses don’t actually need commercial space, especially when just starting out. At the same time, in the interests of looking professional and not revealing personal information (i.e., your home address), using a corporate address is a good idea. Sometimes, a family member or friend might allow you to use their business address effectively as a mail stop or point of contact; however, that option isn’t always available. Consider investing in a virtual office – for less than a hundred dollars a month, you’ll have access to an office for purposes of meeting with clients (you pay by use), as well as a professional address. Just know that when it comes to some official registrations, you cannot use it as the point of contact because they’ll want an actual “physical” address.
  2. A virtual phone solution – Rather than obtain a separate phone for your office, consider a virtual phone solution. Businesses such as Onebox offer services such as an auto attendant (when a client calls, they dial a number separate from your personal phone number and they hear a message from an auto-attendant before being routed to you), professional greetings, teleconference line, voicemails transcribed to texts/emails, and online faxing. In addition to providing you with a professional phone number, services such as Onebox will only set you back about $35/month versus the much higher amount you’d spend on obtaining a separate phone for your business.
  3. A great web developer – If you are relying on obtaining clients from the general public, or know that prospective clients will be checking up on you via the web, consider investing in a professional website. Not all web developers are created equal, however, so get referrals and understand the market rates. (I know a web developer I would unreservedly recommend).
  4. Professional business cards – It’s always a good idea to have professional business cards on hand. I use Vistaprint and always have an eye out for promotions; if you catch a good one, you can get about 50% off site-wide.
  5. A LinkedIn premium account – This expenditure depends on your industry, but LinkedIn in general is a great way to get your name out there and connect with prospective clients, teaming partners, and other contacts. Joining is free, but you can upgrade your account (watch for promotions), and then send messages to those outside your network for free as well as see who’s viewed your profile.

What do you think? As a small business owner, can you think of any expenses that were worth any penny? Any that were a waste?

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

In The Office, the Michael Scott Paper Company invested in a pancake breakfast to draw in clients (Season Five)

The New VetBiz Website: It’s Not You, It’s Them

UPDATE: As of June 6, 2018, the VetBiz site is still down with the exception of the search function. Document requests continue to be suspended, and there is no information as when the CVE will be back to business as usual (to include the processing of applications and complete usability of VetBiz portals).

I write this to clear up confusion for folks involved with veteran-owned small businesses registered with the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (“VA”) VetBiz registry, which is the database for all businesses approved for SDVOSB and VOSB set-aside work with the VA.

Specifically, if you’re undergoing verification and/or have been on their new site, you might be tearing your hair out in light of the new login system. For example, if you’ve logged in, where on earth is your business information? Why can’t you log in? If you can’t log in, what about that pending document request or your expiring verified status?

Here’s the gist. On May 21, the VA shut down all access to the VetBiz site while completing updates, relaying that it would be up and running in 30 days. This meant that if you wanted to get VetBiz-verified, or re-verified, you had to hit “submit” on May 20 before the system went down (during the system upgrades, applications were still being processed).

On June 22, the VetBiz site was updated with information on how to get an account under the new system. The process is different for veteran owners compared with non-veterans and representatives, with the latter requiring inputting multiple codes sent via text and the answering of several security questions (similar to the D&B process). However, when one logged in to the system, they would find no information in their portal, while their old account still worked.

Earlier this week, the old system was phased out, meaning that no one had (or still has) access to it, with business information in the process of being migrated over to the new one. Here are the major snags:

  • The business information from the legacy system is not yet in the new system. This means that for those of you who have logged into your new portal, it looks empty. Accordingly, if you were looking forward to getting back to work on your application after the 30-day hold, or have a document request pending, you won’t be able to complete these tasks.
  • Anyone who is not the veteran owner has been booted from any and all business accounts for which they are a representative. The only way for them to be added to the account is for the veteran owner (only) to sign up for an account under the new system and to add the non-veteran as a representative.
  • If you are not yet in the new system, you will not be receiving alerts relating to document requests and the expiration of your verification period because these are generated from the legacy system. As such, when access to the new system becomes available, make sure you have an active account so you receive any alerts pertinent to your verified status/verification application. (As an FYI, however, while I was informed of this via the help desk, I am still receiving alerts despite having been removed as a representative across the board).

So. . . what can you do? .

  • If you have a pending document request – If you have a document request that is outstanding, the CVE will be extending your time because they are aware you can’t access your account.
  • If your verification period is expiring soon – As of now, the system has now been out of commission for approximately 35 days. The hope is for those businesses that are expiring soon, the CVE will provide a reasonable extension of their verified period. However, there has been no announcement has of yet, and it might be difficult for the CVE to identify the affected companies and take appropriate steps.
  • If you have been unable to apply for verification for the first time, or for re-verification – There is no information available as to when the site will be up. However, as soon as it goes up, if you have the ability to hit “submit,” do so before it goes down again. That will at least get you in the queue to be assigned to an intake analyst (which has been taking about three weeks). During this system upgrade, it is still business as usual on the examination side.

I’ll share any updates there are to provide, and please know this information is from my own experience, conversations with the help desk and other pertinent individuals, and the website. It is as accurate as possible, and I’ll update this article to reflect any changes.

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

OIG Report: Agencies Score an F in WOSB Sole Source Awards

In a report released by the Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General (“OIG”) just yesterday, contracting agencies were heatedly criticized for failing to comply with the requirements for awarding sole source contracts under the Woman-Owned Small Business (“WOSB”) Program. The potential cost of this mistake? $52.2 million.

As an initial note, the requirements for awarding sole source contracts to WOSBS are set forth at FAR 19.1506. This provides that a contracting officer may award a sole source contract to an economically-disadvantaged WOSB, or EDWOSB, when: WOSBs are underrepresented in the applicable NAICS code, the contracting officer does not have a reasonable expectation that offers would be received from two or more EDWOSB concerns, and the anticipated award will not be greater than $4 million (for contracts other than manufacturing). The requirements for sole source awards to WOSBs are the same, with the added requirement that WOSBs be substantially underrepresented.

If the SBA’s OIG report was to assigned a grade to contracting officers for following sole source requirements, it would be an F. Of other findings, the OIG found that contracting officers did not comply with sole source requirements for 50 out of 56 contracts. That’s 11%!

The OIG report found that contracting officers awarded sole source contracts to WOSBs without the necessary documentation to determine eligibility for 50 of the 56 Program contracts they reviewed. Examples of missing documentation included WOSB and EDWOSB self-certifications, articles of incorporation, birth certificates, and financial information. Without this documentation, it was not possible to ascertain that a firm was owned and controlled by a woman who is a U.S. citizen. Specifically, contracting officers awarded 18 contracts, valued at $11.7 million, on a sole-source basis, to firms that had no documentation in Certify.SBA.gov, and 32 contracts, valued at $40.5 million, to firms that uploaded incomplete documentation.

Compounding these issues, within these 56 contracts, the OIG found instances where contracting officers had awarded a contract using a NAICS code that SBA had not identified as being substantially underrepresented by women-owned businesses. Additionally, contracting officers awarded two contracts to Program firms for NAICS codes that were identified by SBA, but the firms had not identified themselves as being eligible small businesses for those codes.

Also, the SBA OIG found that the firms that received those contracts did not comply with the Program’s self-certification requirements. These conditions could have been precluded had SBA implemented a certification program the same time it implemented the sole-source authority provisions. As a result, there is no assurance that Program set-aside contracts awarded on a sole-source basis were awarded to eligible WOSB or EDWOSB firms.

The OIG report offered five recommendations to improve sole source procedures and ensure awards are made only to eligible firms:

  1. Conduct eligibility reviews for the firms we identified in this report that lacked the required documentation in Certify.SBA.gov and require those firms to remove their designation in the System for Award Management
  2. Initiate debarment proceedings, if warranted based on the results of eligibility reviews in Recommendation #1.
  3. Implement a Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program certification process as required by the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2015.
  4. Conduct quarterly reviews of firms with newly obtained WOSB or EDWOSB status, to ensure that they have the required documentation in Certify.SBA.gov, until SBA implements a Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program certification process.
  5. Conduct quarterly reviews of Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation data for Program set-aside contracts to ensure Federal agencies’ contracting officers used the appropriate North American Industry Classification System codes and take the necessary action(s) with identified exceptions.
  6. In coordination with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the General Services Administration, strengthen controls in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation to prevent Federal agencies’ contracting officers from using ineligible North American Industry Classification System codes.

As most are well aware, WOSBs are fairly underrepresented with respect to the receipt of set-aside and sole source contracts from the federal government. (This is reflected in the small business scorecard the SBA released in 2018). This underscores the unfortunate nature of the SBA OIG’s findings, as it demonstrates that those lucky enough to receive a bit of the “WOSB federal pie” may not have been allowed to order from the menu in the first place.

Access the full SBA OIG report here.

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

Some folks shouldn’t have taken a piece. . .

Veteran News In One Hot Minute

Now that the federal government has had a week to catch up after their three-day holiday, you might have an influx of emails and deliverables since everyone’s back in action. Accordingly, in lieu of a longer post, here are three quick items for you to peruse:

The New VetBiz Verification Guidebook is Out! Several years ago, I created a comprehensive guidebook to address all major issues with VetBiz verification (eligibility criteria, the process, re-verification, cancellations, audits, etc). For anyone who is in the VetBiz registry (which is the VA’s way of tracking businesses it has cleared as “veteran-owned small businesses” or “service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses,” and therefore eligible for its set-aside opportunities), you may have noticed a lot of recent changes to the process. This Guidebook is updated as of June 1, 2018 and is a one-stop shop for everything you need to know if you want to get/stay verified.

NVSBC Conference in Only One Week! Every year, I attend and speak at the National Veteran Small Business Coalition’s conference in Virginia Beach. This year, they’ve moved it a short distance away to historic Williamsburg, Virginia, where they’ll have knowledgeable speakers on a variety of federal procurement topics, an Exhibit Hall, and a chance to rub elbows with prospective teaming partners and procurement officials. Especially if you’re in the D.C. area, consider taking the trip from June 11th through the 14th, because Scott Denniston and the folks up top at the NVSBC do a wonderful job of providing a conference with a lot of value. While the hotel where the conference is being held is full, there are plenty of other lodging options in the area. (We’re booked at the Great Wolf Lodge). For non-NVSBC members, registration is $649 if you do it ahead of time ($449 for members).

Peter O’Rourke Tapped as New VA Acting Secretary. President Trump has tapped longtime VA official Peter O’Rourke as the agency’s acting secretary, the White House announced last Wednesday, a move that comes ahead of the confirmation hearing of VA secretary-designate Robert Wilkie. O’Rourke, who previously served as chief of staff for the agency and as its executive director for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection, took on the role effective last Tuesday, the White House office of the press secretary announced in a statement.

That’s it and that’s all! For more news on issues affecting veteran-owned businesses, sign up for my legal blog at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link to activate your subscription!

 

News in a Nutshell: Crack This Article Open!

Pricey GAO Protest Fee Is Now a Reality

On April 2, the GAO released a final rule implementing its Electronic Protest Docketing System (“EPDS”). As of May 1, EPDS became the “sole means for filing a bid protest at GAO” (with the exception of protests containing classified information). Also, new protest actions are subject to a $350 filing fee, which is refundable only in the instance of delayed corrective action (Corrective action is where an agency decides to fix the issues raised in a protest rather than have the GAO decide the protest on the merits, generally because the agency believes the protestor is right or that taking such action is in the best interest of the procurement protest). Chances are, this will result in a decline in the number of protests filed. The interesting question is whether this will also result in a steep increase in the percentage of protests that are sustained/receive corrective action, since protestors will only risk the dough on stronger cases.

Guilty Plea for Lies to Obtain SDVOSB Set-Aside Contracts

On May 1, the VA’s Office of Inspector General issued a press release relating to an individual who entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to defraud the VA in the performance of 12 contracts (valued at a total of $1.6 million) intended for service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSB”). According to the press release, the company at issue falsely claimed that the veteran owner had majority ownership, when in fact this was not true.

This is an interesting case, given that most issues with SDVOSB fraud seem to center on “control;” i.e., the veteran owner not actually being in the driver’s seat in company decisions, working full-time elsewhere, etc. Ownership, control – it doesn’t matter – when you go through the certification process and start winning contracts because your business is “owned” and “controlled” by a veteran, know this is serious business. You can’t fudge anything, or exaggerate – be truthful, be transparent, and disclose all relevant facts bearing on eligibility. It’s not worth getting in hot water later.

Search for New VA Secretary Continues

In late April, Navy Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration as President Trump’s nominee to be the next VA Secretary, amid allegations of prior misconduct at the White House medical office where he is physician to the President. Such allegations including improperly prescribing medications, using his position to abuse and denigrate colleagues, and alcohol abuse on the job. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the charges stem from nearly two dozen current and former service members who approached lawmakers without congressional prompting. He said he could not verify the validity of each charge, but the volume of the accusations raised concerns.

As such, the search for a new VA Secretary continues, with candidates including acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, former Florida Rep. Jeff Miller (whose fine work I have blogged about on numerous occasions), and Ron Nichol, a senior advisor to the Boston Consulting Group. President Trump has indicated he intends to pick someone with a more political background for the role, with the objective of navigating the confirmation process in a divided Senate.

*Did you find this article informative? If so, sign up for Sarah Schauerte’s legal blog on veteran business issues at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

VetBiz Applications: Submit by May 21 or Lose 30 Days

If you are procrastinating in applying for verification or re-verification with the VA’s Vendor Information Program (i.e., VetBiz), spend the next week getting your documents together and hitting “submit!” On May 21, the VA is suspending the ability to submit any new applications or re-verification applications for 30 days, in order to facilitate the transition to a new case VIP interface.

In a notice sent out just today, the VA’s Center for Verification and Evaluation (CVE) is citing a number of changes made during this shutdown. However, if you take a look at their list, is the 30-day wait worth it?

  • First, the VA is creating a new “single sign-on login process,” which comes with a different process for veterans versus non-veterans/representatives. However, no information has been provided as to how this sign-in process is an improvement over the old. (As for me, I never had an issue with signing on. It was frustrating to re-set my password every 90 days and adhere to the strange password requirements, but there’s no indication that different password requirements come with the change).
  • Second, Sam.gov validation is now automatic when you enter your DUNS number. It appears that your DUNS number has to be right to sync with Sam.gov and give you access to the VetBiz portal. The VA claims this “eliminates Veteran frustration when submitting applications with incorrect DUNS or incomplete SAM registration.” However, how often would this issue really arise? Most folks know how to enter a DUNS number, and to already be in Sam.gov when applying for VetBiz registration.
  • Third, and most substantively, the VA cites changes to the “dashboard capabilities and enhanced Veteran process enhancement,” providing a list of changes in its May 14, 2018 notice that went out to all veterans in the VetBiz system. However, some of these likely won’t make a difference. It will be “easier to upload individual taxes,” but the process now is basically the same as uploading an attachment to an email (requiring two clicks of the mouse). Same thing with uploading resumes. It will, however, be nice to be able to automatically request ten-day extensions for most document requests and to submit and track the status of Help Tickets, so that’s definitely an improvement.

What do you think? If you’ve been through the VetBiz process and someone had asked you how to make the process easier from a technical standpoint, what would you have changed? (I for one would have permitted the deletion of irrelevant or duplicative documents – unfortunately, once you hit “submit,” whatever is in your portal stays in forever!).

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

No Meal for Vet With Service Dog

On April 2, when Vietnam and Desert Storm veteran Rick Fall went to his favorite restaurant to enjoy his 20th wedding anniversary, he was surprised when he was turned away. He’d brought Ben, his service dog, to Riverwalk Grill on at least six occasions before with no incident. That night, however, a (presumably inexperienced) server told him to leave the restaurant despite being told “‘at least six times” that Ben was a service dog.

Brock Dennings, Riverwalk Grill’s owner, was horrified to later learn of the incident. “We just want to know what happened and ensure it does not happen again,” Dennings told a local Michigan newspaper. “That is what I know for sure. I’m not saying we didn’t have any fault. We just want to understand what happened.”

To be proactive in ensuring the incident is not repeated in his restaurant, Mr. Dennings is working on establishing that employees are educated on dealing with service dogs, to include having them sign a statement that they understand. He is also hosting a service dog workshop that will cover understanding service dogs in the community and what to do if you suspect a fake service dog.

This incident underscores the difficulty in preventing incidents with, and embarrassment to, veterans with service dogs. In this instance, it is likely the restaurant staff on duty that night did not know how to address the issue of a patron with a service dog. It’s hard to educate staff on such matters, especially given the turnover of restaurant staff and the relative rarity of such an incident. As a result of this difficulty, poor Mr. Fall didn’t get his anniversary meal, and the restaurant received negative attention.

The lesson here is for small business owners who cater to the public. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), you must accommodate individuals with service dogs. If it is not obvious that a dog is a service animal, a public entity or a private business may ask only two questions: 1) Is the animal required because of a disability? and 2) What work or task has the animal been trained to perform? Here, the wait staff should have asked Mr. Fall these questions, and, when reasonably satisfied, brought Ben a bowl of water. He’s a customer, too!

For more information on service dog requirements under the ADA, click here. Also, if you’re interested in receiving updates relating to veteran and small business issues, subscribe at http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. Remember to click the link to activate your subscription!

“No soup for you?” Think before you enforce that rule.

The VA’s RAMP: Is It Real Assistance?

On August 23, 2017, President Trump signed into law the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 (Appeals Modernization Act), which boasted of creating a new claims and appeals process for those pursuing VA benefits; specifically, those who have been chasing their benefits for a long, long time.

A long time.

As implemented beginning in November of 2017, the Appeals Modernization Act plucked older applications from the purgatory of the queue and provided those veterans with a choice between one of two lanes: the Supplemental Claim Lane or the Higher Level Review Lane. By taking a “lane,” these claims are supposed to be resolved sooner than they would be if continuing to languish in the standard appeals process. This is called RAMP, or the Rapid Appeals Modernization  Program. (That’s right. The VA is referring to one of its own processes as rapid. The VA).

While RAMP sounds good in theory, one of the most curious aspects is the lack of information about it. I first looked into RAMP when a veteran mentioned it to me, and the only information I found was months-old Internet pages, most of them from the VA itself and providing general information about RAMP and its background, rather than the dynamics of its operation.

After a considerable amount of digging, here’s the skinny on RAMP:

As mentioned, RAMP is invite-only, and extended only to those veterans who have the oldest claims out there, though the VA plans to have all claims processed under RAMP by February 2019 (though there is no elaboration as to what that means). There are two lanes: the Supplemental Claim Lane and the Higher-Review Claim Lane. When you’re invited, you pick one or the other.

The Supplemental Claim Lane is for those who have additional evidence to submit relating to a claim. The VA will assist the veteran in gathering the evidence and then decide the claim within a goal of 125 days. You can continue to submit supplemental claims with new or material evidence or elect for the other lane (the Higher-Level Review Lane) by making an election for further review within one year after a decision.

The Higher Level Review Lane is for those veterans who have no additional evidence to submit and believe there was an error in the initial decision. Also operating under a goal of a 125-day turnaround period, this higher-level review consists of an entirely new review by an experienced claim adjudicator.

While the idea of expedited review sounds good, many aspects of RAMP are confusing. For example, in the Supplemental Claim Lane, if the VA is required to help the veteran obtain more evidence, does this stop the clock on the 125-day period? Surely it does. And with the Higher Level Review Lane, the review by an “experienced claim adjudicator” sounds very similar to the election to have a Decision Review Officer look at your claim after receiving a denial. Is the only difference that you’re in a different queue than those in the standard appeals queue? And how much does that help you, considering that RAMP is invite-only? If you’re getting an invite to participate in RAMP, doesn’t that mean you’re up for a decision soon anyway?

Then there’s the issue with appeal rights. The letters sent to veterans don’t really discuss how appeals to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) work, other than to note that a veteran participating under RAMP cannot appeal to the BVA until February of 2019. They also don’t discuss how appeals in RAMP might be resolved at the Regional Office level such as by submitting additional information after a decision and waiting for either a new Statement of the Case or decision, which is how it currently works (though it takes years for that process to go through).

As of February 2018, only 450 veterans who have been invited to participate in RAMP have done so. That represents a three percent opt-in of the 15,000 veterans who have been invited to participate.

If you get a RAMP invite, before you elect to get out of traffic to the safety of the VA’s new “HOV lane,” please do your research. Disability compensation is an entitlement, and there’s no need to make getting what you deserve harder than it already is.

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

VA Disclaimer: Process May Be Slower Than Object Appears.

Veteran News in Brief

It’s the Friday before a holiday, and I know your time is valuable. As such – and not to be cheeky – I bring you veteran news in brief!

“You’re Fired!” Trump Gives VA Secretary the Boot.

After weeks of uncertainty atop the Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”), this week President Trump dismissed its secretary, David J. Shulkin, and announced he would replace him with the White House physician, Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy. If confirmed, Dr. Jackson will inherit a set of challenges that have bedeviled Democratic and Republican administrations alike. The department, the federal government’s second largest, has been burdened for years by aging infrastructure, an inefficient health care system, and an unwieldy 360,000-person work force. Sounds like a great career change for someone who has no real experience running a large bureaucracy.

As some of you might know, this follows an unflattering Office of Inspector General report that found that former Secretary Shulkin had engaged in improper conduct in overseas travel, including by improperly accepting Wimbledon tickets, unnecessarily taking his wife along on the taxpayer dime, and misusing VA resources and time.

Comment TODAY if You Want Anything With VetBiz to Change.

On January 29, the Small Business Administration (“SBA”) issued a proposed rule to finally merge the VA’s and SBA’s definitions of “ownership” and “control” for veteran-owned small businesses that compete for work from federal agencies. This is part of the SBA’s/VA’s plan to merge VetBiz verification and self-certification into one program controlled and managed by the SBA.

As of now, over 13,500 businesses have been “verified” as veteran-owned small businesses (“VOSBs”) or service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (“SDVOSBs”) by the VA. Many of those businesses have not been particularly happy with the process. (Still more have not received verification). And yet, when a companion rule called for comments due on March 12, a grand total of 17 folks commented. Half of those were attorneys and professionals, including myself, who were invited to take part in a VA focus group on the changes. That is sad! Let your voice be heard. Comment tonight by midnight to make your input part of the official record.

Fantastic Veteran Business Conference in Williamsburg this June

I have been active with the National Veteran Small Business Coalition for years now, and the reason why is because they are fantastic for veteran businesses (especially in the D.C. area) looking to: get into federal business, learn more about the federal business, petition for change, and network to find teaming partners or prospective clients. This year, the conference is in Williamsburg from June 11 through the 14th and kicks off with a golf tournament. If this might be of interest to your business, find out more here.

That’s it and that’s all! Have a wonderful weekend, and stay posted for next week.

*Did you like this article? Stay informed on veteran business issues by signing up for Sarah Schauerte’s weekly blog at: http://www.legalmeetspractical.com. Please remember to click the link sent to your email to activate your subscription!

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My mission is to provide accessible, high-quality legal services to small business owners and to veterans. I will strive to clearly communicate, understand objectives, and formulate and execute effective legal solutions.

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