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Mr. John R. Wheeler

Mr. John R. Wheeler, Veteran Corps of America, Executive Vice President

Chairwoman Sandlin and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, I am pleased to have the opportunity to make this statement of support for the efforts of the U.S. Army to meet and exceed the 3% procurement goal for contracting with Service Disabled Veteran Owned, or SDVO, small businesses.  In particular, we recognize the efforts of the U.S. Army Office of Small Business Programs led by Ms. Tracey Pinson and LTC James Blanco.  They are the face of the Army to small businesses, always showing up to answer our questions, making themselves accessible, and often forced to address tough issues on the spot.  I am here to tell you if you do not already know that they do so with passion, day-in and day-out.

My brother, Captain Bill Wheeler, was medically retired from the Air Force in 1995 after a traumatic brain injury ended his dream of a thirty-year military career some twenty years and a few days earlier than planned.  Our Grandfather, Air Force Colonel William M. Long, was a thirty-three year veteran who flew thirty-one bombing missions over Europe in a B-24 Liberator and later numerous successful missions as a P-51 fighter pilot.  In fact, a plane he flew hangs today at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum not so far from here.  Our family’s military heritage includes over a dozen decorated veterans of the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.  This legacy of military service led to our founding of the Veteran Corps of America with the primary mission to create jobs for veterans, with particular focus on disabled veterans. 

In the short time since our incorporation on January 21, 2005, the Veteran Corps of America has provided supplies and services to over twenty Federal, State and Local Government agencies as well as a growing number of their prime contractors.  We were fortunate to be a winner of both functional areas of the new GSA Veterans Technology Services Government-Wide Acquisition Contract, or VETS GWAC, and now hold several GSA schedules.  This month we delivered our tenth small order to the Army, matching the ten Air Force bases we have supported thus far.  As of the end of June, the Veteran Corps has booked 2007 sales of nearly $1.5M, up from only $15,025 in all of 2005.

We are exclusively partnered with the Purple Heart’s Veterans Business Training Center to hire home-bound combat wounded and service disabled veterans they recruit and train to support Government contracts.  This training is fully accredited and made available to veterans as part of the VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service.  Together with the Purple Heart’s Veterans Call Center, we are able to provide robust call center capability utilizing home-bound veterans located throughout the United States, and indeed all over the world.  Today, some 150 disabled veterans have been trained, 75 are in training and nearly 3,000 have registered for future classes, a number of which are Wounded Warriors injured in combat after 9/11.  Every dollar paid to them either in training or employment compensation multiplies many times over as many of these Patriots transition back into fully productive lives as workers, consumers and taxpayers, leaving unemployment and disability in their wake.   We are currently pursuing a number of call center opportunities within the Army that we appreciate have been set-aside by Army procurement officers for competition limited to service disabled veteran owned small businesses.   

As one of the leading purchasers in the Federal Government, the Army is the largest market for our goods and services.  Correspondingly, they have the toughest assignment when it comes to meeting procurement goals for all types of small businesses.   In “failure,” the Army spends more money with service disabled veteran and veteran owned small businesses than any organization on Earth.  While they have not yet reached the minimum 3% standard, their identification of over $1.7B of upcoming opportunities for service disabled veteran owned small business is unprecedented for any small business contracting program.   However, now more than ever, their contracting community needs your assistance to be successful on the scale necessary to achieve and exceed the 3% standard.

On June 20, 2007 Public Law 109-461, the Veterans Benefits, Health Care and Information Technology Act of 2006 became effective.  This legislation gave the Department of Veterans Affairs additional procurement tools to enable them to much more easily contract with service disabled veterans.  Simply stated, at the VA service disabled and veteran owned companies are now at the top of the contracting ladder.  Now, if an SDVO can perform a requirement under $5M it can easily be sole sourced to them if they are a responsible contractor and propose a fair and reasonable price.  Moreover, for requirements over $5M where one or more SDVO companies are identified as capable, the VA contracting officer now “shall” set-aside that contract for SDVOs and as he or she is no longer encumbered by the more nebulous direction “may.”    

The point today is simple.  Give these same tools to the United States Army.  Reauthorize the Army exactly the same way you reauthorized the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Do not wait to make these critical changes until consensus can be reached on every topic related to the Small Business Act that will then take another year or more to be implemented.  Make these small, simple changes to the Army and DoD’s procurement authority and enable the same sweeping culture change you have enabled within the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

My Grandfather, General Earle G. Wheeler, started his Army career in 1932 upon graduation from West Point.  Thirty-eight years later he retired after serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for an unprecedented six years under Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.  Personally, my brother and I have ridden in the family car to a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery eight times.  This heritage of service requires that we accept nothing less than the full commitment of the U.S. Army to support service disabled veterans.  We applaud the Army’s Office of Small Business Programs for their years of hard work and the measurable success they have achieved over the past two fiscal years.  We are convinced the simple changes we encourage you to make will provide the final push – the right tools if you will - to enable the Army to meet and exceed the SDVO contracting mandate.  A goal to which I know through experience they are fully committed.

In closing, I paraphrase something I heard at the National Veterans Small Business Conference a few weeks ago by saying that veterans are the faces of America.  No other group is more diverse, more accepting of that diversity, nor more able to function effectively together because of it.  You and I know it, the American public knows it and the Army knows it and thrives because of it.  Helping veterans succeed in business helps all of America and makes all Americans proud.  Please assist the Army in their ongoing efforts to support service disabled veteran owned small businesses. 

I thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you today. This concludes my testimony and I welcome your questions today or in the future.