Bill Targets Abuse in VA Contracting

Students who become injured while cadets at U.S. service academy prep schools will no longer be able to claim vet status or file for disability compensation with the VA.

under legislation filed this week by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rep. Daryl Issa, R-Calif.

The bipartisan bill comes after lawmakers in June took testimony from a Virginia businessman who got a VA disability on the basis of a 1984 football injury at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School; the compensation meant his company would be considered for contract set-asides for businesses owned by disabled vets.

The bill filed this week by Duckworth and Issa, who chairs the committee that grilled business owner Braulio Castillo in June, would no longer grant veteran’s status to men or women whose only connection to the military is attending a service academy high school. The bill would define “veteran” to exclude such individuals and prevent them from exploiting the system to secure contracting preferences.

“The Support Earned Recognition for Veterans (SERV) Act [is] a bipartisan bill to eliminate abuses in the veterans benefit system and ensure that only individuals who have actually served in the military can qualify to receive government contracting preferences and similar benefits,” the two said in a joint statement released Nov. 14.

Currently, men and women who attend a service academy prep school may claim veteran’s status without ever being in the military.  The SERV Act

The lawmakers first announced their intention to file the bill in a joint op-ed in The Hill newspaper on Nov. 11, reiterating evidence from the committee’s investigation showing that Castillo picked up $500 million in IRS contracts earlier this year that were set-asides for businesses owned by disabled vets.

Castillo, owner of Strong Castle, an information technology company, never served in the actual armed forces, but took advantage of the current law to secure a VA disability.

During the June hearing Duckworth tore into Castillo after reading from his letter to the VA about “the considerable sacrifices” he made in service, and that he “would do it again to protect this great country.”

“Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you,” said Duckworth, who lost both legs when the helicopter she was piloting in Afghanistan was shot down. “You may not have broken any laws …But you certainly broke the trust of this great nation.”

Duckworth, in the joint statement with Issa, called their bill “a common-sense solution to a small problem, but a good start so that we can spend taxpayer dollars more effectively and honor our Veterans properly.”

Issa said in the joint statement: “Those who never actually served our country are not – and should not – be entitled to receive this special status.  This loophole must be closed to reduce these egregious abuses and prevent taxpayer dollars from being inappropriately awarded to non-Veterans.”

About the Author

Bryant Jordan
Bryant Jordan is an associate editor and White House correspondent for Military.com. Bryant covers all corners of the military arena, is an expert on "Don't Ask Don't Tell" issues, religious proselytizing and other ongoing military policy issues. He has covered Air Force support missions during the Kosovo War and in 2006 the aero-medical evacuation mission out of Balad Air Base, Iraq. A journalist since 1979, Jordan also covered stories in Lebanon, Gaza and Morocco. During the Vietnam War he was assigned to 15th Admin. Co., 1st Cavalry Division, Bien Hoa Army Base. Before joining Military.com Jordan was a staff writer and deputy news editor for Military Times newspapers in Springfield, Va.