An Air Force veteran was in serious condition on Tuesday after he set himself on fire in front of the Georgia Capitol to protest his treatment by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, according to state and local law enforcement officials. John Watts, 58, arrived at the government building before noon wearing a vest lined with firecrackers and flammable devices, then doused himself with flammable liquid and lit the fireworks, according to the Georgia Department of Public Safety. A Georgia trooper witnessed the event and put out the flames with a fire extinguisher, the department said. Watts was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he told officials that he was an Air Force veteran and had immolated himself to call attention to the VA system, which had apparently failed him, the department said. In a tweet, the Atlanta Police Department said he was in serious condition.     “I’m not sure what his history is there, but he is disgruntled with the VA system and is trying to draw some attention to that. He stated something to the effect that he was looking for some help,” Mark Perry, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, told The Associated Press. In an email to NBC News, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs said, “While we can’t comment on the specifics of this veteran’s case due to patient privacy laws, the department is ensuring he receives the VA care that he needs.” The Capitol and Judiciary buildings were evacuated while the Atlanta police SWAT team and bomb-detecting robots swept the buildings for any explosives, law enforcement agencies said. Watts' vehicle was also inspected as a precaution. A recent VA study showed that veterans are twice as likely as civilians to die by suicide. While the reasons are not clear, psychiatrists and suicide experts say they could be a combination of lack of access to mental health care, feeling a sense of disconnection from society, and financial and relationship problems.   On June 6, President Trump signed legislation allowing veterans to receive VA-funded medical care from the private sector to minimize the waiting time that many veterans face seeking health care through the VA.
An Army veteran in hospice care with a terminal illness asked his wife recently to hold his phone for him in case anyone calls. After no one called for two hours, Lee Hernandez, 47, told his wife, Ernestine, "I guess no one wants to talk to me." "It broke my heart,'' Ernestine told The Arizona Republic. “(Lee’s) speech is not very well, so many people didn’t take much interest or want to talk to him.” To help cheer up Lee, Ernestine is asking people to give him a call or send him a text because it helps to lift his spirits. She first put the message out on Tuesday to the Arizona Veterans Forum on Facebook, which asked fellow veterans to help brighten Lee's day with a simple gesture. He soon was receiving an outpouring of prayers, phone calls and uplifting text messages that Ernestine read to him. Lee has gone blind and suffers from continuous strokes despite three brain surgeries from an illness doctors have been unable to determine, she told The Arizona Republic. The 18-year Army veteran, who served in Iraq, has been in hospice care at their home in New Braunfels, Texas. Ernestine suggests those who want to call or text should do so between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Central Daylight Time at 210-632-6778. "Thank you everyone for your calls and support,'' she told The Arizona Republic. "I am trying to give him the best life I am able to with the help of my mom."
A ribbon-cutting ceremony took place March 1 for the new Veterans Information Center in Warwick, N.Y. The center, open to all veterans, offers and will host special events, which, Post 4662 Commander Dan Burger said will address issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress and continuing education. It also will be a place where veterans can receive counseling. “At the Veterans Information Center, we took over what were doctor’s offices, and we converted them into private counseling rooms – whether it’s for helping with benefits or giving actual counseling from the VA,” Burger said. “This is our Post, but it’s set up like a professional office building.”   Burger, a 1991 Persian Gulf War veteran and former Army captain who served with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, said the information center also will offer veterans a computer lab and basic computer courses to help veterans apply for benefits. “Some people that have difficulty accessing information, because they are not comfortable with computers, for instance – so that is something we thought we could help with,” Burger said. “We triedto identify some of the challenges people are having with their transition from the military, and help them in those areas.”
ADEL, Iowa — The assembled at the Country Lane Lodge looked a lot like the typical Iowa voter: old and white. But the Democrats of Dallas County who had gathered for their spring fund-raiser were brought to their feet by a lean man from Missouri dressed in standard-issue millennial garb: suit jacket, bluejeans, narrow tie and two-tone half boots. The speaker, Jason Kander, 37, talked about his experience volunteering for deployment in Afghanistan after graduating from Georgetown Law School, how Democrats needed to reclaim the ideals of patriotism and courage, and his new job leading Let America Vote, an organization that fights voter suppression and gerrymandering. The work just happens to take him to states like Iowa and New Hampshire. He also has a popular podcast and a book about “everyday courage” coming in August. What hasn’t he done? Win a significant office, unless you count serving as Missouri’s secretary of state. But that didn’t stop an Iowa reporter from asking him if he was running for president. “It’s something that people do keep asking me about,” Mr. Kander said. This is the season of the long audition. “We are in open mic night,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama. “We are not even into auditions yet. I think this is the time where people are just trying out their material.” “After the midterms,” he added, “this will intensify very, very quickly.” Mr. Kander, along with Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., are among a group of younger Democrats — all military veterans — who are making a generational claim on a party that many see as top-heavy with leaders and lawmakers in their late 60s and 70s. The very notion of veterans in the Democratic Party was called into question this month when Kevin Nicholson, a former Marine and a Republican candidate for a United States Senate in Wisconsin, questioned their “cognitive thought process” and suggested that “to fundamentally protect and defend the Constitution” was a “conservative thing” to do. Mr. Moulton and Mr. Kander were among several veterans who signed a letter this month demanding that Mr. Nicholson apologize, saying they were “extremely disappointed to see” that he would “not just disrespect our nation’s veterans, but crudely do so as a means to advance his own political career.” The Democratic veterans’ time may not yet have come, but they are doing what budding national figures need to do, traveling the country, giving speeches to party organizations, building political networks, refining their message and building a following on social media. “I think there’s a generational thing here that people are ignoring right now,” said Anita Dunn, a former communications director for the Obama White House. Mr. Moulton, 39, enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Harvard with a degree in physics in 2001. He served four tours in Iraq, where he earned a Bronze Star, then returned to earn a joint master’s degree at Harvard in business and public policy. After winning his House seat in 2014, Mr. Moulton started a political action committee to help recruit veterans to run for office, an organization that has him traveling the country giving speeches and raising his profile. In Washington, he has opposed Representative Nancy Pelosi, 78, as the House Democratic leader. “This is the time for a new generation of leadership in our party,” Mr. Moulton said. Mr. Buttigieg, 36, who volunteered for military service in Afghanistan in 2013 after earning degrees at Harvard and Oxford, emphasizes the ways government directly affects people’s lives. He is much in demand at state party organization gatherings, and will be the keynote speaker at the Wisconsin Democratic Party convention on June 1.           Mayor Pete Buttigieg, 36, of South Bend, Ind., is in high demand for state party gatherings.CreditAlex Sanz/Associated Press “A lot of the political actions you will see from the millennial generation aren’t just a result of younger people being a little more left, but really thinking how these political choices are going to affect us personally,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “Obviously we are the generation that has done most of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.” “From a budget perspective,” he added, “we are the generation that is going to pay the bill” for the tax cut signed into law in December. They are competing for attention with the party’s mandarin wing, which includes former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., 75, and Senators Bernie Sanders, 76, and Elizabeth Warren, 68, who were shaped by the Vietnam era. There is also a tier of younger senators like Kirsten Gillibrand, 51, of New York; Cory Booker, 49, of New Jersey; and Kamala Harris, 53, of California; and mayors of larger cities like Eric Garcetti, 47, of Los Angeles, and Mitch Landrieu, 57, of New Orleans. How far any of the three veterans go in politics will be another test of the power of generational change, which propelled John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1992. Millennials have now passed baby boomers as the nation’s largest bloc of voters, but they have few representatives in government. “One of them, and I don’t know which one, is going to light a spark and get further than any of us can think,” Ms. Dunn said. Part of the journey is coming up with ideas that separate them from Democratic orthodoxy. Mr. Moulton, for instance, said Democrats had to do more than simply oppose President Trump. “I think there will be a reckoning that America goes through after Trump,” Mr. Moulton said. He added: “A lot of Democrats will self-righteously claim victory and try to lord it over the Republicans and say, ‘See, we were right all along,’ and that will be bad for the country. What we really need is Democrats who can be leaders and also uniters who can help the country heal after Trump.” Each of the men frames an appeal that they believe will play to party strengths on the coasts and in urban areas, but also in the traditional Midwestern battleground states. “The Republicans have actually done a good job of tapping into the anxiety people are feeling,” Mr. Moulton said. “But it also shows that Democrats have tremendous potential in places that people are hurting by showing a real path forward.” Mr. Kander, who lives near Kansas City, raised a common worry in the Midwest, that its young people do not return to their hometowns because they see so little opportunity. “We’re Democrats,” Mr. Kander said. “We give a damn. How did we ever let people convince us that was a weakness?” Mr. Kander’s travels have taken him to dozens of states, and he now delivers a polished version of a stump speech, complete with applause-ready lines. “We understand that patriotism is not about making everybody stand and salute the flag,” Mr. Kander said as the more than 225 people in Adel stood to cheer. “Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to.”        Representative Seth Moulton, 39, Democrat of Massachusetts, started a political action committee to help recruit veterans to run for office.CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times None of the men have a traditional résumé of a candidate for national office. But Mr. Trump may have rendered such qualifications unnecessary. Instead, they emphasize their military service as evidence that they can connect with multiple constituencies. “People who serve in the military get a different vocabulary for talking with other Americans in a way that is less and less true in civilian life,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “You have to spend time working and eating and living with people who have radically different life experiences from you and very different politics.” Representative Gerald E. Connolly, 68, Democrat of Virginia, said that the three were trying to “broaden the base” of the party. Mr. Moulton, he said, brings his military service, but also his “impatience for change within the party.” “He has been outspoken in challenging our current leadership,” Mr. Connolly continued. “I think his challenge is whether you can channel that into effective coalition building to forge something by way of a movement.” Mr. Connolly was largely admiring of Mr. Moulton, but also underscored the friction that his bucking of party leadership has revealed. Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist who helped fashion Mr. Clinton’s rise, said that Democratic aspirants should look at Jimmy Carter’s campaign in 1976, when he rose from being the relatively obscure governor of Georgia. “What Carter did was he understood the moment,” Mr. Begala said. “There was such disgust from Nixon and the lack of ethics, and he ran counter to that, to the imperial president in style and Watergate in substance. I think that’s the model.” But it may well be that Democratic voters will want the polar opposite of Mr. Trump, namely someone with ample experience at governing. No member of the House has been elected president since James A. Garfield, in 1880. No mayor or person running an outside political organization has ever been directly elected president.
Mark Walker, American Legion deputy director of Veterans Employment and Education Division, was awarded the Jerald Washington Memorial Founders’ Award on May 31, in a ceremony at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (NCHV) annual conference in Washington, D.C. The award is presented to an individual who “embodies the spirit of service and sacrifice” displayed by the award’s namesake, the award is the highest honor given in the homeless veteran assistance community. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Walker has dedicated his career at The American Legion to bettering the lives of America’s veterans. “It is no exaggeration to say that he is responsible for the great interest and deep commitment to addressing veteran homelessness that American Legion expresses,” states the award citation. Walker has travelled the country advocating on the behalf of the homeless veteran population, encouraging others to look at homelessness as a priority. He has been instrumental in securing the passage of resolutions that enable the Legion to advocate on behalf of homeless programs. “Mark Walker has dedicated his professional career to ensuring that veterans are afforded every opportunity to overcome homelessness,” said Louis Celli, American Legion executive director of Government and Veterans Affairs. “He has worked extensively with ’at risk‘ veteran populations, and is a trusted advisor to local, state and federal leaders as they develop and implement programs designed to support veterans who need help finding permanent housing. Mark deserves this prestigious recognition and The American Legion is proud to stand behind Mark as he receives this award.” The award is named after Jerald Washington, a Vietnam veteran, who returned home to Tennessee following the war and dedicated the rest of his life to serving veterans, especially those who had difficulties returning to civilian life. Washington served as one of one of NCHV’s leaders until his death in 2001. Other recipients of the award include Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
For Lindsay Gutierrez, leaving the military didn’t bring an end to her service. It’s just as likely that an end to her reign as Ms. Veteran America won’t bring an end to her advocacy on behalf of her fellow veterans. A scholarship softball player in college, Gutierrez took the military route after graduating with a theater degree, serving in the Air Force from 2010-2016 with deployments to Qatar and Djibouti. After leaving the military, Gutierrez became a veterans advocate, winning the Ms. Veteran America title in October of 2017 and using that platform to speak out on women veterans’ issues. She’ll continue to do so after putting that title behind her, sometimes wearing a Legion cap. Gutierrez recently was elected as commander of American Legion Post 336 in Lakeland, Ga., AND as second vice president of the post’s Auxiliary unit. Gutierrez, who now lives in Georgia and is studying to be a social worker, talked with American Legion Social Media Manager Steven B. Brooks about her military experience, serving as Ms. Veteran America and how The American Legion can help women veterans transition into civilian life. Steven Brooks: How did you end up in the Air Force after graduating from college? Lindsay Gutierrez: My grandfather … had planted this seed in me a long time ago. He had always talked to me and my cousins about joining the military. And my grandfather on my mother’s side was also Air Force as well. So it was kind of one of those things that I feel it was instilled in me at an early age, but it really wasn’t emphasized to join the military. My grandfather kept saying, ‘You should go into the military’ – kind of joking, but kind of serious at the same time. So I got my degree in theater but nothing was really happening. I moved out to California and it was the same thing. Every time I tried to do what I wanted to do, I was just hitting roadblock after roadblock. Then that little bug in my ear from my grandfather said ‘Go join the military.’ It was in May of 2010 I finally decided that I was going to talk to a recruiter. And everything just really started from there. Q: What did you get out of those six years in the Air Force? A: They really helped me to find who I was, and it really helped me to mature in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I told myself, ‘This isn’t me. This isn’t something that I can do.’ I had all these doubts. Knowing how … everyone was supporting me … I felt like I wasn’t just doing this for myself. I was doing it for them. I felt like I really owed it to people. I saw mentors of mine – senior NCOs, NCOs that were my direct supervisor – doing everything possible to set me up for success. So I was trying to do my best to also set others up for success when I became that supervisor. I realize now … whenever you’re helping others, there’s always so much more that can be done. And you realize that your voice really matters. I truly see the importance of using your voice. Q: Is that desire to use your voice what led you to competing for Ms. Veteran America? A: Absolutely. It was during this really crazy time during my transition from active duty to now dependent. My first date back stateside was my first day in Georgia was my first day as a civilian. Here I was not just coming back to an unfamiliar home (after) being away from America for the last five and a half years. I had absolutely nothing other than my husband and my pets. I was trying to make something of myself, and I was feeling weird about what I was supposed to be doing. Coming across Ms. Veteran America, I realized there was something out there for women veterans to be able to empower and help those who don’t have that voice. I completely doubted myself for this. I didn’t think I was the right person for the job. I realized it was just getting out of your comfort zone (and) talking to people. You realize you have a lot more in common with others than you think. And what I found out was a lot of people that I encountered – men and women – we’ve all at some point kind of felt invisible. That motivated me to want to get out and make a change … and put the veteran platform up as high as I could. Q: What have these eight months as Ms. Veteran America been like for you? A: It’s been such a whirlwind. I’ve met people I’ve never thought I’d be crossing paths with: the first woman four-star general of the military, Gen. (Ann) Dunwoody. I’ve met so many incredible, empowering women. And on top of that, to meet some pretty significant names outside of that. It’s really been an eye-opener to see how much support is around whenever you open up your heart and mind to wanting to receive that. I think … as veterans, we try to say ‘We’ve got it. We can do it. We don’t need that help.’ But the truth is that we do. And whenever you start telling people your story – and that’s what I was doing with Ms. Veteran America – they really saw it … ‘That’s exactly how I felt.’ Q: What led you to joining The American Legion? A: I wanted to try to get involved with veterans orgs because we were new (in Georgia) and I wanted to start reaching out and meeting new people. Probably around (May 2017) is when I found out the Lakeland post had been reestablished. I went to their meeting and really spoke about what I was doing (with the Ms. Veteran America competition). From there, I decided to join. I felt like it was just one of those things where I needed to be involved. I thought that the Legion had done so much for me already, I want to be able to give back to them. And when I found out I was also eligible to join the Auxiliary, I definitely took advantage of that. I understand both sides. I know what it’s like to be a military spouse because my husband’s active duty. And I know what it’s like to be active-duty military and a veteran. I can bring both of those experiences to the table. Q: And how did taking on a leadership role at Post 336 happen? A: I had seen that there were (offices) that were going to be open. I was interested and thought this was really important. I started looking at the jobs … and actually put my name in for secretary. I emailed our judge advocate, and he emailed me back and said, “This is great, but you’re a commander.” I was like “wow.” I felt really honored. I agreed, and I got the position, and here I am. Q: What do you think The American Legion can do at the grass-roots level in assisting with homelessness and other issues facing women veterans as they transition from the military to civilian life? A: We have to talk about the issue instead of brushing it off to the side and pretending it doesn’t exist. We’re talking about a very valid and real situation that’s happening across the country. Being part of the Legion allows us that cohesiveness as veterans to understand, “You have a real story. I have a real story. Here’s what we can do together.” By bringing that to the light and encouraging each other that this is something we need to bring to the light … the Legion is very integral in bringing awareness to this cause, especially at the grass-roots level. Because that’s where change is going to start.
WASHINGTON — Eleven major veterans’ organizations have announced the development and adoption of a Veteran’s Creed. The participating organizations presented the creed at an event on Flag Day, June 14, at 1 p.m. at the Reserve Officers Association headquarters at 1 Constitution Avenue, NE, Washington, D.C. The Creed is the result of extensive discussions and consultations among the group that began last fall at Georgetown University. It is meant to inspire veterans to continue to serve and lead in their communities and our country, and to continue to make a difference in our world. Eleven major veterans’ organizations, including the VFW, sign the newly created Veteran’s Creed during a ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 14. The creed is meant to inspire veterans to continue to serve and lead in their communities and our country, and to continue to make a difference in our world.      “The Creed will help prepare veterans for their productive civilian lives,” said Dr. Joel Kupersmith, Director of Veterans’ Initiatives at Georgetown University. Echoing his comments are Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former Army Chief of Staff, who said “I believe the Veteran’s Creed could remind veterans of what they miss about their service and encourage them to continue to make a difference in their communities and across our country,” he said. “We need their talents.” Each element of the Creed is rooted in shared military tenets, the missions of participating veterans and military service organizations, and in the altruistic ethos of veterans themselves.  It is also meant to remind Americans that the principles and values veterans learned in the military – integrity, leadership, teamwork, selfless service – can greatly benefit our country. “In the Army I lived both the Soldier’s Creed and the NCO Creed,” said John Towles, Director of National Security & Foreign Affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. “Both set a path for who I was as a member of the Armed Forces, and served as a constant reminder of my obligations as a leader to those on my left and to my right. As veterans, we must realize that our service does not stop simply because we take off the uniform. Many of us struggle to find our place once we leave the military, but now we have a new set of watchwords to guide and remind our brothers and our sisters in arms that our mission is far from over.” The eight-point Veteran’s Creed is: I am an American Veteran I proudly served my country I live the values I learned in the military I continue to serve my community, my country and my fellow veterans I maintain my physical and mental discipline I continue to lead and improve I make a difference I honor and remember my fallen comrades Along with the VFW, other participating veterans’ groups include AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, HillVets, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Reserve Officers Association, Student Veterans of America, Team Rubicon Global and Wounded Warrior Project.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. (VFW) is pleased to announce participating BURGER KING® franchisees are set to kick off their summer fundraiser to benefit the VFW’s Unmet Needs program. Starting on July 1, patrons are encouraged to visit any of the nearly 450 participating BURGER KING® restaurants located throughout 15 states and donate $1 or more to the VFW’s Unmet Needs program upon checkout. Donations will be accepted until the end of the month. Established in 2004, the Unmet Needs program assists service members and military families experiencing financial hardship by providing financial assistance grants toward basic life necessities like rent, mortgage and utility payments. Since 2007, BURGER KING® franchisees and their customers have contributed more than $5 million to Unmet Needs, which has provided more than $10 million in aid to more than 9,000 struggling military and veteran families since its inception. “America’s heroes and their families have come to rely on the VFW’s Unmet Needs program, but it’s the support from BURGER KING® franchisees and their loyal patrons that helps ensure this vital program can continue to help our military and veterans’ families when they need it most,” said VFW National Commander Keith Harman. “I encourage VFW members and all Americans to support our brave heroes by adding a visit to a local participating restaurant to your summer checklist.”
After more than 25 years, Richard Chavez’s VA disability rating recently jumped from 10% to 100%. Chavez says all credit is due to Anthony Lowe, who not only provided expert claim assistance, but also made sure Chavez had the support he needed when recalling traumatic events from his military service. Lowe was recently appointed as the VFW’s Associate Director of Economic Opportunity & Transition Policy. In his new role, he develops organizational strategy to implement the VFW’s programs and policies. Even with his increased duties, Lowe maintains VA accreditation and continues to share expert VA claim assistance as a veteran service officer.  Lowe says, “These claims aren’t only about financial compensation — they’re about getting the VA to recognize that they are no longer the same person after their military service. Their lives have been changed, and in Mr. Chavez’s case, forever changed due to his experiences during the Vietnam War.” Chavez served in the Air Force, and achieved the rank of master sergeant. Like so many veterans, he suffered with undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) for years before finally going through the VA examinations he needed to obtain benefits.  While serving in the Vietnam War, Chavez endured several horrific tragedies. A night permanently etched in his memory began with a mortar attack on his barracks. Chavez was returning home from dinner when he saw the wooden dorms go up in a blaze. He ran to pull friends out of the fire, but for many, it was already too late. “Some were still alive,” he said, “but others were nothing but bones and skin. I buried this memory for decades…” Chavez continued his military career, and retired after 24 years of honorable service. He held numerous leadership positions, and worked with the Social Actions Office to increase recognition of female and minority officers. He said, “The best aspect of my military service was serving as a first sergeant for three squadrons for three years, until I retired in 1992. At this assignment I was able to truly assist and aid our ‘total force,’ 24/7!” He previously tried to increase his VA rating, but a negative experience with a VA physician — coupled with his struggle with undiagnosed PTS — caused Chavez to abandon the process.  Lowe understood the overwhelming pain Chavez felt when recalling certain events from his service. So in a break from procedure, he volunteered to go with Chavez to his psychiatric exam. “We went through talking points and brought the meticulous records Chavez had kept to the appointment. He made it through the entire interview and kept his composure. I was so proud of him,” Lowe said. “In less than six months, his rating went from 10% to 90% (later increased to 100%).” When asked what advice he had for other veterans going through the VA claims process, Lowe said, “I would encourage all veterans to seek help from an accredited veteran service officer. We know the process and can help a veteran navigate that process.” “We all took the same Oath, so whether you served 50 years or five months ago — you earned these benefits.” Learn more about the VFW’s National Veterans Service (NVS) program, or find a VFW Service Officer near you. More articles from the VFW: Convention in Kansas City: The ‘City of Fountains’ Welcomes VFW Members Citizenship Through Military Service Learning about Lobbying Bataan Memorial March Attracts Record Numbers   
Davy Leghorn, assistant director of The American Legion's National Veterans Employment and Education Division, testified June 7 before the Subcommittee on Investigation, Oversight and Regulation. Leghorn’s testimony focused on the challenges facing veteran-owned small businesses operating as wholesale distributors under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Surgical Prime Vendor-Next Generation (MSPV-NG) program. “MSVP Next Generation not only reduces federal contracts for veteran-owned businesses, but also sidesteps the rule of two,” Leghorn said. “Privatizing the functions of the VA Office of Acquisitions and Logistics presents a conflict of interest and harms small businesses.” The “rule of two” is an obligation for government purchasing officials to conduct market research. If it validates that two small businesses can do the job at a fair and reasonable price, then the contract is set aside to be awarded to small businesses. The Veterans Health Care, Benefits and Information Technology Act of 2006 intended for the VA to adhere to the rule of two even after they have met the minimum goals for utilizing service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. This was affirmed by the Kingdomware Tech. Inc. v. United States Supreme Court decision in 2016. Since then, the VA has created internal regulations and policies to work around the court’s ruling, leveraging the narrative that veterans’ lives are at stake due to the burden placed upon them by the decision. “We believe VA is the most qualified to deliver health care services to veterans, and we want them to step up to their responsibilities,” Leghorn said. “The intimation that the adherence to the Vets First procurement priorities could potentially cause catastrophic disruption to the health care supply chain is markedly false.” To help the VA carry out their mission of serving America’s veterans, Congress established the Veterans First Contracting Program, also known as Vets First. This program gives the VA authority to award sole-source contracts to veteran-owned small businesses so long as they are a responsible source. The contract falls between $150,000 and $5 million, and the contract can be made at a reasonable price. “Despite this authority, the VA has continued to impede its own authority and work against the intentions of Congress by creating internal regulations and policies that make it harder to award contracts to veteran-owned small businesses,” said Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss. The VA filed a justification and approval to move thousands of medical products under the control of four prime vendors, according to Kelly. Many of these products could be purchased from veteran-owned small businesses. Instead, the VA is including small businesses at the subcontracting level and have provided no details for a plan. “The VA has used many excuses for these actions, the most common being that it’s too burdensome or too expensive to work with veteran-owned small businesses,” Kelly said. The American Legion is an advocate for reasonable number of federal contracts to be set aside for veteran-owned small businesses, according to Resolution No. 154. “It is clear from today’s discussion that the theory that contracting with veteran-owned small businesses is expensive and burdensome is nothing more than a misconception,” Kelly concluded. “Therefore, the VA needs to take their responsibility to help America’s veterans succeed in all aspects of life seriously. We shouldn’t try to meet goals for veterans — we should try to exceed them.”   More Legion Stories: