OPINION: President Trump Must Commit To Protecting Entrepreneurial Veterans

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George Landrith and Peter Roff President and Senior Fellow, Frontiers of Freedom
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In addition to the physical and psychological risks that manifest as acute and long-lasting injuries veterans face the risk of economic failure due to the prolonged separation from the civilian market.

In 2005, under Public Law 108-451, Congress requested a comprehensive veteran economic outcome study that, when completed, showed veterans were economically behind their peers for significant years after separation.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs basically buried the results. They seemed antithetical to the idea America is invested in ensuring the best outcomes among its separating servicemembers.

For as long as most Americans can remember, the national response to the veteran economic transition problem has been the GI Bill.  It is a national investment into individual benefits, earned by the veteran according to their time in military service.  After World War II the investments made under this new program, especially in the area of human capital, created an economic boon as millions of veteran/entrepreneurs entered the marketplace, creating vibrant businesses throughout its diverse communities.  

Unfortunately, like most veteran services, the G.I. Bill has become painfully bureaucratic, leading to unwanted and unintended consequences. Veterans are no longer allowed to use their earned benefits to start a business.

Some members of Congress have tried to restrict veterans’ training choices, such as flight schools, despite the national demand for pilots. Severe processing delays of educational payments have forced many veterans to drop out of school, further exacerbating the difficulties of their career transitions.

This is not what Americans intended when we elected our politicians and entrusted them with the care of our men and women who have served in the military. 

Despite the bureaucratic handling of earned benefits, many veterans have fought to become veteran/entrepreneurs. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, veterans own more than 2.5 million businesses employing over 5 million people. Their annual contribution to our economy is well over $1 trillion. We can celebrate these achievements, but there is a painful irony to the story.

Instead of protecting these entrepreneurs, the VA just might be their biggest abuser. In a recent essay for Next Veterans, Dr. Eric Hannel reports the Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations for the House Veterans Affairs Committee has received numerous reports of the VA abusing veteran/entrepreneur, especially during the period he was the director, from 2011-2016. The most notable case decided in favor of the Kingdomware Technologies, was settled in the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to Dr. Hannel, the VA abuses continues. A recent case illustrates how VA officials coerced a veteran/entrepreneur into providing out-of-scope services under the threat of terminating the contract and spreading falsehoods to block future contract opportunities. Facing bankruptcy and the inability to pay employees, the veteran/entrepreneur completed the new work while appealing to other VA Officers for help.

The case is especially egregious, as one VA Officer wrote in an email that they planned to steal the veteran/entrepreneur’s proprietary software and have another contractor reverse engineer it to “avoid paying a vendor.” The VA continues to use the unlicensed software to manage their spending data on thousands of conferences — the subject of a previous scandal.

Another notable advocate for Veterans, Chris Neiweem, has reported that recent actions by President Trump will be effective at resolving this case and stopping the ongoing abuses of veteran/entrepreneurs. 

Neiweem notes that administration nominees to key leadership positions including Dr. Tamara Bonzanto and James Paul Gfrerer will establish necessary oversight over IT contracts, and a possible independent ombudsman for veteran/entrepreneurs.

Americans not only want our veterans cared for in their transitions to civilian careers, they want them protected from governmental and bureaucratic abuses. The VA’s abuse of veteran/entrepreneurs must stop. This requires dedicated attention by President Trump and members of Congress.

George Landrith is president of Frontiers of Freedom, a Washington-based public policy organization that deals with defense issues. Peter Roff is an FOF senior fellow.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.