Veteran-owned firms benefit from new law

President Clinton signed into law late last month legislation that should help expand federal government business opportunities for the millions of veteran-owned small businesses across the country.

The Veterans Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development Act of 1999 is designed to help veterans, especially service-disabled veterans, establish and grow small businesses. There are about 24 million veterans nationwide, including about 4 million veterans who own small businesses.

Randy Slager, president of information technology company Catapult Technology Ltd. and a service-disabled veteran, said it is difficult for disabled veterans to win federal government contracts.

"Often, the disability becomes more of a discussion point than the capabilities of the firm," he said. The law, Slager added, will "open the doors for veterans, especially service-disabled veterans who have already earned through their sacrifice the right to provide quality services to their country as business owners."

An extremely small percentage of service-disabled veterans own small businesses, Slager said. He estimated that of the 2,900 companies with 8(a) status, only about six are owned by service-disabled veterans. Many such veterans get discouraged because there is no formal or extensive support structure.

However, the law should help change that. Specifically, the law will do the following:

* Enable veterans to apply for loans that are open to women, low-income and minority business owners.

* Require the Small Business Administration, Veterans Affairs Office and small business development center associations to offer business training to all veterans.

* Establish a corporation that will create and maintain a network of information and assistance centers for veterans and the public.

* Allow veteran-owned small businesses to compete on the same level with socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.

* Provide loans to keep in operation small businesses owned by reserve or National Guard members when called for active duty.

* Establish a minimum goal for agencies to spend 3 percent of the total value of all contracts each fiscal year with service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses.

"The origin of the bill emanated from the veterans community, [which] wanted to see an expanded veterans program at the Small Business Administration," said Clifton Toulson Jr., assistant administrator for the Office of Veterans Affairs at SBA.

The legislation is based on recommendations from the Veterans' Affairs Task Force for Entrepreneurship.

"The biggest benefit is that [veterans] will be on par with other constituency groups," Toulson said. "The same level of effort and assistance and perhaps dollars allocated to agency programs will be directed to assist veterans" get the support necessary to start and build their own businesses.

The VA is "cautiously optimistic" about the law, said Scott Denniston, director of VA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization. The challenge will be for the VA, SBA and the Labor Department to work together and lay down the ground rules, he added.

The law should benefit all veterans, mainly by putting them "on the radar screens of contracting officers," Denniston said.

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