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February 19, 2021
Author : Amy Chan and Alex Bustillos
As veteran homelessness and suicides rise, research by Contractor News shows that veteran and disabled veteran-owned businesses are not integrated into the vast majority of America’s state and city/county contracts, procurement, and public works projects.
After a comprehensive investigation into business certification programs across state, county and city agencies, Contractor News can report that the vast majority of government entities lack the participation of veteran and disabled veteran-owned businesses.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has for decades run the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program, which works alongside DBE programs run by state DoTs, and it has been an important tool for helping marginalized and small business owners connect with state-funded projects.
Over recent decades DBE programs across many states have expanded to be run parallel to a large number of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Women Business Enterprise (WBE), Small Business Enterprise (SBE) and other business certification programs. Sometimes the acronyms vary from state to state.
Separate from the DoT programs, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has various federal certification programs which are similarly used by small businesses seeking to gain opportunities via federal contracts. Among these certification programs is the Veteran-Owned Small Business (VOSB).
Also, as we recently reported the Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) program, long run by the Department of Veteran Affairs, was recently handed over to the SBA as well, so SBA now runs the two major federal veteran business programs — both SDVOSB and VOSB.
While DBE programs are expected to be run by each state’s DoT, states are not required to create Veteran and Disabled Veteran business programs. This means that veteran and disabled veteran-owned businesses in many states do not have a certification program just for them. In practice, this means they are largely cut out of state, county, and city contracts nationwide.
It’s not all doom and gloom: a number of states and a small number of cities and counties do promote vet biz. Some state legislatures have taken it upon themselves to create Vet Biz certification programs.
Nationally, it’s a mixed bag of programs. The vast majority of states don’t have any programs to speak of. Yet there are states that are beginning to do things right. So below we’ll list the states that do have programs.
In the Mid-West, Illinois promotes its own state version of the SDVOSB program and the City of Chicago has a Veteran Business Enterprise (VBE) program. Indianapolis, part of Marion County in Indiana has a VBE program, but the state has no such program. Ohio, however, does have a VBE program.
In the North-East, The New York/New Jersey Port Authority recognizes SDVOB firms and New York State has its own SDVOB program. Massachusetts has its own SDVOB and VBE program.
And in Virginia, the Department of Small Business and Supplier Diversity recognizes a SDVOSB certification.
Heading south, Arkansas has its own SDVOB program and Florida has a VBE program.
Kentucky promotes a local version of the SDVOSB. Louisiana has a “Veteran Initiative” where it certifies state based veteran-owned companies.
While Texas has a “Veterans Entrepreneur Program”, it appears to just exempt certified firms from a few small filing fees and provides some business advice, without much more in the way of tangible business opportunities.
California has a DVBE program. As we have reported, Orange County in Southern California is promoting the DVBE program through its county contracts. Washington state has the Washington Veteran-Owned Business program. Las Vegas, influenced by the large nearby California market, has its own local DVBE program, though nothing like that exists at the state level in Nevada. Oregon, meanwhile, has its own SDVBE program.
Of the 50 U.S. states it is only these dozen (and possibly up to a third) that have programs that to some extent appear to integrate vet and disabled vet businesses with state public works projects, or with set aside goals.
The number of cities and counties we could find with business programs integrating vets into local projects was even more low, with only a handful across the country.
A future Contractor News investigation will examine the differences in the veteran certification programs that do exist from state-to-state and those few that are in cities and counties, so keep an eye out on our future reporting.
Importantly, vet and disabled vet-owned firms are regularly left out of disparity studies that tend to focus on ethnic and gender-based ownership for measuring imbalances in state and/or city/county contracts. As we have previously reported, this has even been the case for federal studies on the efficacy of the Payment Protection Program loans that have been meant to bailout main street businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic. We simply do not know how much stimulus support veteran-owned businesses have gotten even though there have been studies including other business certification types.
One thing is for sure: the majority of states and even more so city/county agencies in the USA are way behind when it comes to veteran businesses, with no programs whatsoever to integrate vet-owned businesses into state and/or city/county contracts and procurement.
The National Veteran-Owned Business Association maintains a state tracker, with a useful map showing veteran programs across the country. The tracker shows that many states only have “fig leaf” legislation that doesn’t amount to any major or widespread opportunities for veteran businesses.
Other states lead the pack by providing set asides or spending goals for the involvement of veteran and/or disabled veteran-owned businesses in state-funded projects.
While the United States has been at war for decades, those who serve their country are left with PTSD and high suicide and homelessness rates, with more than 40,000 homeless vets. One recent study found that new military veterans in the U.S. are 93 percent more likely to die by suicide than the general public.
The lack of unique support veteran entrepreneurs are getting from the government is a shocking state of affairs that fits in to the composite of government failures to give veterans the support they need and deserve.
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