On July 21, 1930, President Herbert Hoover signed Executive Order 5398, an order that established the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) as an independent agency. On March 15, 1989, Public Law 100-527 elevated the Department to Cabinet level to better meet the needs of those making use of it. This followed a long tradition of the country assisting those who served to protect the land and its citizens. In 1636, the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony enacted a law to support disabled soldiers that had defended the colony.
President Lincoln once declared America was “To care for him who shall have borne in battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” and to serve and honor those men and women who are veterans of America’s wars. This remains the purpose of the agency today.
According to the mission statement issued by the Department, the agency works to serve United States veterans and their family members, doing so with both compassion and dignity. The VA functions as the principal advocate for these individuals, working to provide the care, support, and recognition they deserve for their service is provided. Currently, 19.6 million veterans along with their beneficiaries are eligible for the benefits and services provided by the agency. More than half of these veterans engage with the agency each year.
The Veteran Population
According to the VA, as of March 2019 4.84 million veterans currently receive VA disability compensation. Of these veterans, 723,863 are 100 percent disabled. More than nine million are currently enrolled in the VA health care system and roughly 6.34 million unique patients received treatment during fiscal year 2018. The health care system is only one of the ways the agency serves clients, however. It also provides education benefits, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, and more.
Today, the VA employs more than 368,000 men and women, all who work toward fulfilling the mission. It now serves as the second largest department in the Federal government and roughly one of every ten employees of the government now works for this agency. This includes doctors, nurses, computer specialists, lawyers, counselors, and statisticians. All strive to put veterans first and provide the highest level of services, doing so with courtesy and caring.
The majority of Americans are aware of the VA health care system. As of March 31, 2019, the agency operates 172 VA medical centers, 143 of which offer acute inpatient care services. More than 1,200 outpatient sites provide support to the medical centers and the agency maintains 300 vet centers also. This is in addition to 56 regional offices and 136 national cemeteries.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Core Values
The VA operates around five core values: advocacy, commitment, excellence, integrity, and respect. All highlight the obligations inherent in the mission of the agency and define what the agency is, its culture, and how it cares for those making use of the services offered. The agency states these are more than simply words, as they have an impact on every daily interaction with a veteran and/or his or her beneficiaries.
When the first letter of each word is extracted and the resulting letters are rearranged, it spells I CARE. This acronym reminds every employee at the VA of how important their work is and what it means to those they serve. Each value serves as a promise made by the employee as well as the organization to the individuals being served.
Men and women employed by the VA put the needs of the veteran first and advocate on their behalf. This includes identifying these needs, fully considering them, and behaving in a way that advances the interests of those who have served in the armed forces along with their beneficiaries.
Any person working within or on behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs (including contractors) needs to be fully committed to their work. To do so, they must believe in the mission of the agency and what it is trying to accomplish. This requires the individual to fulfill both his or her individual responsibilities and also those of the organization.
The Business of VA
VA is the second largest cabinet agency in terms of dollars spent on contracting (behind only the Department of Defense). In total, the Department spent over $26 billion on contracts-related spending in fiscal year 2017. While a significant percentage of this spending is committed to funding the massive healthcare and benefits operation, there are plenty of opportunities for contract awards, especially for companies that qualify as service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).
Companies that are interested in doing business with VA must be aware of a relatively new policy called the Rule of Two, which directs VA contracting officers to set-aside contracts for SDVOSBs whenever two or more qualified SDVOSB concerns are capable of doing the work. While there’s a lot more to the Rule of Two (formally known as the Veterans First Contracting Program) than can be covered in this blog, it’s important for interested suppliers to understand how this rule dictates VA’s discretionary spending and make their capabilities known to VA contracting professionals who may be conducting market research to support a Rule of Two determination.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie recently announced the VA is requesting $220.2 billion in fiscal year 2020, with $97 billion earmarked for discretionary (contract) spending. This represents a 9.6 percent increase above the fiscal 2019 budget, which will help to further the agency’s goal of ensuring all veterans receive high-quality health care and prompt access to services and benefits.
VA Contracting Rules
As with (nearly) every federal agency, VA contracting is pursuant to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, with supplementary guidance provided by the VA Acquisition Regulation. VA is also one of only a few agencies with delegated authority to manage a multiple award schedule, which it does for medical supplies and services across 9 different schedule programs.
opentheFAR allows you to see the FAR and agency supplements like the VAAR in one convenient view!
Beyond its significant expenditures on medical care and related expenses, VA is still a significant buyer of professional services, information technology, and construction. Suppliers with an interest in selling to VA should definitely check out the resources offered by its Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization to prepare for upcoming opportunities. And, if the company is an SDVOSB concern, it should register with market databases like VetBiz and create a free contractor profile on GovShop to ensure they can be found when VA contracting professionals are conducting market research.
Anything less than excellence is simply not acceptable when it comes to serving America’s veterans. Furthermore, there is always room for improvement and every person within the agency needs to recognize this. Every employee is expected to act with integrity and remain morally upright. Clients need to be provided with honest answers and should feel they can trust those they work with at the VA. Furthermore, employees should act in a manner that allows clients to feel confident in working with them.
Veterans and their beneficiaries deserve the respect of every American, including those who work for the VA. Anything less is simply unacceptable in the face of the sacrifices these men and women have made to protect and defend the country and its citizens. Likewise, each person engaging with the agency should be treated with dignity at all times.