Darrell Issa | Serving California's 49th District

Eliminate fraud in the veterans contract system

November 12, 2013

The Hill
By: Rep. Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Duckworth (D-IL)

 

Does a twisted ankle at a prep school before you actually joined the military make you a service-disabled veteran?

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service awarded $500 million in government contracts to a man who claimed to be a service-disabled veteran but had never served a day in the actual armed forces. Exploiting current law, Braulio Castillo parlayed an ankle injured while at a military prep school into a service-disabled-veteran designation that gave his business a significant advantage in getting contracts with the federal government.

Castillo claims pain and disability from this injury to this day. But the pain was not so severe and disabling that he could not play quarterback and linebacker at a civilian college right after the injury. Indeed, he waited 27 years to apply for service-disabled veteran status — conveniently, just months before he started his business and sought out lucrative government contracts.

Castillo’s testimony of “sacrifice” for our nation in his June testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was disgraceful. He attended one year of prep school, and served not a single day in the actual armed forces.

This exploitation of a system designed to repay the truly injured offends veterans and service members like us. Contract preferences are intended to help veterans grow their small businesses while providing the government needed services and goods. And, rightfully, priority goes to those who have sacrificed the most: to those who have lost life, limb or were otherwise disabled in service to our nation.

The individuals exploiting this generous system diminish the benefits available for the deserving and tarnish the record of a well-intentioned veteran program. Every dollar contracted to someone who did not earn that benefit is a loss for our true service-disabled veterans.

In our respective home states alone, there are more than 320,000 disabled veterans. For them, the hundreds of thousands of additional disabled veterans across our nation, and the millions of other American veterans, this loophole must be closed.

Therefore, we are proud to introduce the Support Earned Recognition for Veterans (SERV) Act. With this bill, mere attendance at a military prep school will no longer be enough for veteran contracting preferences and similar benefits. Actual service will be required to ensure these important benefits will be available for those who continue beyond prep school and make a commitment to our nation.

Each year, the government offers small-businesses contracts to service-disabled veterans worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The SERV Act will reduce abuses in this system and ensure the goal of the American people to appropriately compensate disabled veterans is not displaced by the greed of a few.

Veterans Day is set aside to honor all those who have donned our nation’s uniform and served. The SERV Act has the same goal: to honor our veterans by ensuring their benefits are reserved solely for those who have, in fact, served.

Issa has represented California’s 49th Congressional District since 2001. He is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sits on the House Judiciary Committee and is an Army veteran. Duckworth is in her freshman term representing Illinois’s 8th Congressional District. She sits on the House Armed Services, and the Oversight and Government Reform committees. She is a National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost her legs and partial use of her right arm when the helicopter she piloted was hit by an RPG in Iraq in 2004.