Friday, March 12, 2010

Oh how they work to cover . . . up






This morning, US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chaired the House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The hearing revolved around the Center for Veterans Enterprise. CVA, the VA explains, "is solely dedicated to assisting veterans in starting and building businesses."

In her opening remarks, Chair Herseth Sandlin explained, "As many of our witnesses will testify, small businesses are an essential component to a strong economy. This Subcommittee has held several hearings on the challenges faced by our nation's veterans seeking to start and develop a small business. We have also heard from many members of the National Guard and Reserve components who find it challenging to maintain their small businesses when called to active duty. I want to assure our panelists that this Subcommittee will continue to work to remove barriers that prevent veterans from accessing the services that may help them succeed in their small business venture."

Ranking Member John Boozman noted that Herseth Sandlin and he had "worked on creating additional tools for VA to meet and exceed the contracting goals for disabled veteran owned small business in the 109th Congress. The results of our efforts culminated in Sections 502 and 503 of Public Law 109-461. I believe it is fair to say the passage of that law was viewed very favorably by veteran small business owners. Unfortunately, we have a situation where VA appears to be dragging its feet in implementing one of the very important provisions of that law and that is establishing a data base of veteran and veteran-owned small businesses whose status as a veteran-owned small business has been verified by the VA. In other words, the only companies that should be viewed by someone searching the database are those which have been vetted by VA. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As you can see on the monitors -- we're really high tech today -- we've accessed the VA's vendor information pages database of veteran owned businesses. Although the law clearly limits the businesses listed in the database to those whose veteran-owned status has been validated by the VA, the monitor clearly shows businesses that have not been validated. VA staff notes have pointed out that the little reflow notes a veteran-owend business. I don't know about you, but it's hard to view that as satisfactory to separate the verified from the unverified. [If you click here, the "(-)" -- red dash in parenthesis is what he's pointing to.] First of all, there's no legend that identifies the symbol as meaning the company has been verified. For example, in the screen shown here, seven of the ten businesses listed have not been verified."

Boozman noted that it is three years after the passage of the law and VA has not followed it. The database was supposed to allow others to utilize it to ensure support for veteran-owned small busineses and that, unless verified by VA (as the law mandates), no business should be listed. Boozman added, "VA has presented Congress with four budges since this became law and to my knowledge not any of those budgets requested any additional resources to comply with the law." He spoke of the millions that veterans have lost out on due to fraudlent businesses posing as veteran-owned and disabled veteran-owned when they weren't.

The first panel appearing before the Subcommittee was composed of National Veteran-Owned Business Association's Scott Denniston, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Richard Daley, Vietnam Veterans of America's Richard F. Weidman, the American Legion's Joseph C. Sharpe Jr. and American Veterans' Christina M. Roof. Roof noted, in her opening remarks, that their complaints appear to have been ignored, that they haven't been listened to at CVE.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: If CVE has become overwhelmed by the verification process, and I think others of you have talked about in terms of resources, training -- can you provide us with more specifics about what you think the requiste resources need to be, what type of contractor support does CVE need to be successful and maybe an overarching question should CVE -- should that office be formalized by statute? I think someone had testified to the importance of a separate line item in the budget but any -- a question for any of you.

Scott Dennison: I don't know that it needs to be necessarily set in statute, the office itself. I do believe that it needs a line item for the budget for the reasons that all of us on the panel have discussed. I think that the issue of resources -- in the beginning, when we started the verification process with CVE, we knew that the initial challenge was going to be to take care of that first bubble of applicants. At that time, I think we had 12,000 people in the database. And we always felt that we needed contractor support for that, to help with the administration of the applicants themselves to do some of the site visits that we had planned. And then the goal always was to be able to maintain that once we got over the initial hump with VA staff. And, as to the resources that were going to be necessary to do that. We didn't really have a firm handle on that because this was new territory to all of us but we did make some projections as to what they should be and, as I think I mentioned in my testimony, some of those resources were in fact approved about 18 months ago. To my knowledge, they haven't been forthcoming and I can't answer that.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And they were approved by the Board of Directors of this --

Scott Dennison: The supply fund, right.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin; The supply fund, okay.

Richard Weidman: We believe that it should be enacted in the statute. If it's worth doing, it's worth doing formally and it should be a line item. And we would also suggest that while they may be in charge of verification that's not their primary role. If you view the service-disabled veteran program as a program, it needs to be built in and encouraged by VA VOC Rehab and perhaps some changes in that section of Title 38. There's no reason why we can't bring back the old loan fund that's still been on the books since 1994 for start up capital if, in fact, people have a solid business plan. I mean there's -- Mr. Buyers introduced legislation to do that and we strongly support that. And it can become a locus. I believe that Mr. Dennison is absolutely correct: You can't do business development in South Dakota from Washington, DC. But you darn sure can find out who is the people in South Dakota either at the small business development center, at the state economic development work with the County Executive Associations which does have an office in Washington, DC to find out who do they have in economic development that you can send service disabled and other veteran owned businesses too. That should be the primary purpose. In terms of contracting out, as I mentioned before, the veteran verification really only needs to be done once. You can double check if somebody's service connected but even that doens't go away. Since there's no minimum threshold to be declared a service-connected disabled vet, once you're service-connected, you're service-connected. It might go down to zero if your cancer goes into remission but you're still a service-connected disabled vet. So you only need to do that once and frankly you can do that through automated comparisons of that individual to the databases that VA already has or has access to at DoD through the interagency agreement. [. . . -- ]

Christina Roof: If I may I just want to, Rick, you said something that, it's really been bothering me and a lot of our members. The hinderance of the re-certification on an annual basis? We've all sat up here and said "We need tougher certification processes in place." And I -- we still all believe that but this is not the best way to go about it. We already have a backlog of nine to twelve months to get original certification. So when should -- If I was a service disabled veteran -- when should I reapply for my next year's certification? Three months after I apply for the first one? Just so I make sure there's not a gap there. And also, it's almost seems unfair that veterans aren't being provided the equal protections under the law and they're made to do this extra work. So I'm hoping that maybe the next panel can shed a little light on this for us. Of what the thought behind this recertification every year would do and how they plan on handling on it because I know our membership would really like to know. Thank you.

The other panel was the VA's Tim J. Foreman (with backup singers Iris Cooper, Philipa Anderson). For reference, the first panel raised the issue (especially Roof) of how the VA would allow a small business veteran owner to only list one of his/her businesses in the database. They did not feel this was fair or needed. The Chair raises the issue with Foreman.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Thank you, Mr. Foreman. When did you formally take over this position.

Tim Foreman: About seven weeks ago.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And you were with the Department of Defense before that?

Tim Foreman: That is correct, ma'am. I did retire from the Department of Defense but people approached me before I retired and said, "Are you interested?" I said, "I have a passion for this program. I know the vets. I have worked with them. I have many friends. I'm a veteran." So.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So what are your initial thoughts about some of the testimony you heard on the first panel?

Tim Foreman: Well some of them I happen to believe are true.

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Do you agree that there may be an unreasonable limit on one business being listed?

Tim Foreman: I'm sorry?

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Do you agree with the general sentiment of the first panel that it's an unduly restrictive limit to only allow one business to be listed by a service connected disabled veteran.

Tim Foreman: You know, when I read that, before I ever talked to anybody, it was just by myself, and I went through that and I questioned right then and there because I own a business. I inherited a business and I have seven brothers -- none of them want to do any business with it, so they give it to me. I'm 500 miles away running a golf course. I am not there full time. But I hire, I fire, I do policy, I work with the advertising, I work with the lawyers --

Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: You have effective control and ownership.

Tim Foreman: So I have effective control. and I'm not there. If you want me to be wearing an apron and flipping a burgers out in the eighteenth hole well that's a different issue. I think that's a little bit tight. So that's just a personal opinion. I tell you, I do have a great staff. I mean the energy there, the passion is there, the brains are there. What I think I need to do is bring some things together and I think I can make it happen. We've already started hiring 3 new people for the Center Veterans Enterprise, so that's happened. I brought in one person so far. We've got another one that might come in and I'mt rying to hire a third. So both sides of the house are growing. The limitation at this point is not the people, it's where we're going to put them.

In his testimony, he noted that he had spoken with the Inspector General about fraud that had been outlined but he had been asked not to speak of his testimony.
As Ann noted last night, Deborah Amos was a guest on Fresh Air (NPR -- link has audio and text option) yesterday. Ann observed, "Big problem I had with Amos? The Shi'ites were backed by the US. They were put in charge. Sunnis making that claim were not suggesting anything outrageous and I have no idea why she'd want to pretend that they were." That's an important point. Amos blames the 'civil war' (ethnic cleansing to others) on the Sunnis. Why? She has no proof. But that's who she blames it on. She says that Sunnis "started the sectarian war. They felt that the Ameircans had sided with the Shiites when they came into the country." That's exactly what happened -- it's not what Sunnis say happened, it's what happened.

The Americans underscored the split by setting up centers for Iraqis to report to and they divided them by asking, "Are you Sunni or Shia?" Many Iraqis have spoken of that and have spoken of how, for them, it was the first time they remember the question being put to them by some authority type. The split was underlined and underscored by the US. Equally true, who got put in charge by the US?

Deborah knows the answer to that: ". . . the Shias are in the majority in Iraq. And the second thing is they had government institutions. They were the head of the interior ministry, the defense ministry, and so they had militias in government uniforms, in police uniforms, and they went after the Sunni community very seriously as did the militias that were not tied to the government." It is not speculatin that the US sided with the Shia, it is reality. This is a good time to note Qais Nawwaf (CounterCurrents) refuting a column by Paul Craig Roberts:

Even if we were to assume Iraq's Muslims aren't united enough for Roberts' taste, he seems to have ignored the USA's critical divide-and-conquer role in Iraq. He doesn't appear aware of the USA's deployment of Shii and Kurdish troops to battle Sunni cities, such as Fallujah in November 2004. He ignores the USA's political and financial support of sectarian parties, politicians and clergymen.

A stronger section of the interview follows (Terry Gross is the host of Fresh Air):

GROSS: A lot of Iraqi exiles have gone to Syria. You point out in the book it's the only remaining Baathist regime in the world. So there's a lot of Sunni in the country. So Sunni exiles from Iraq have the potential of feeling comfortable there. But for the exiles in Syria, they're not allowed to work. Why aren't they allowed to work?

AMOS: They aren't allowed to work any place they go. This is not just a Syrian rule. It's in Jordan. It's in Lebanon. It's everyplace they go in the Middle East: Egypt, Turkey. Refugees really can't work in those communities because those communities are having their own problems with enough jobs for their own population, although there is plenty to do in the gray economy. Mostly, it's the kids who work. You can get a job putting charcoal on a narguila(ph) at a restaurant. You see little boys doing that in a lot of places. You can put you 14-year-old out to work in a factory. And many, many of the women have turned to what's called survival sex, and I spent plenty of time with Iraqi prostitutes, women who were not prostitutes when they left the country but turned to it because it was one way that you could support your family. And when you arrive as a single, female-headed household - and about one-quarter of the exiles in Damascus are in that category - and you have no skills and your family is not going to support you because you almost - most likely have come from a mixed marriage. You're a Sunni who'd been married to a Shiite, so your family is no longer going to support you and his family is not going to support you - you turn to survival sex.

GROSS: You interviewed one person in particular who admitted that she was into that. You knew other people who did but wouldn't necessarily admit it. And you went with this woman to a club where, basically, men find prostitutes. And I'd like you to describe, first of all, her physical transformation when she went to the club with you.

AMOS: Well, I had met her at her home. We had been - I had an introduction from a translator from Iraq. And the first time I saw her was at 11 o'clock in the morning, and she had on a chartreuse track suit, velour, runny makeup, her hair up in a ponytail, cracked fingernails, and, you know, she looked like she'd had a very hard night. She eventually invited me to come to her favorite nightclub, and we met at midnight, and I didn't recognize Umnor(ph). She looked fabulous. Her hair was as shiny as a horse pelt, tons of mascara, big ruby lips. Her fingernails were long and red and a very black, clingy pair of pants. I would have walked by her in the street.

Deborah Amos is a reporter for NPR, she's written a new book, Eclipse of the Sunnis, and the first chapter is available online and the Fresh Air staff have paired some links to her previous reporting for NPR on Iraq with that. We noted Amos' comments on some Iraqi women and we'll stay with the topic of Iraqi women because the American Association for Cancer Research has issued a release noting that breast cancer rates in Iraq continue to move upwards and, of the group diagnosed with cancer, "Although 90.6 percent of women detected a lump on self-examination, only 32 percent sought medical advice within the first month. Because of this, 47 percent of them presented with advanced stage breast cancer, either stage III or IV cancer."

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"The elections, the fraud (Tom-Tom) and more"
"Veterans issues"
"Archer trumps American Dad"
"Iraq, Fresh Air, American Dad"
"American Dad"
"the decline of american dad"
"American Dad this season"
"Thoughts on American Dad"
"American Dad: No; Archer: Yes"
"Cleveland killed American Dad for me"
"American Dad"
"American Dad, Supreme Court"
"No politician left behind"

No comments: