NewsPublic Affairs / May 25, 2017

VA Contracting Changes Could Cut Employment Options For The Blind

A federal lawsuit alleges the agency ignored a long-standing law when it changed contracting rules that have been used for decades to give jobs to the visually impaired.Bosma Enterprises, Department of Veterans Affairs, National Industries for the Blind2017-05-25T00:00:00-04:00
VA Contracting Changes Could Cut Employment Options For The Blind

Bosma Enterprises is an NIB agency and offers employment and rehabilitation opportunities for the blind.

James Vavrek/WTIU-WFIU

Indianapolis based Bosma Enterprises has joined a federal lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs. The complaint alleges the agency ignored a long-standing law when it changed contracting rules that have been used for decades to give jobs to the visually impaired.

The federal lawsuit was filed by the National Industries for the Blind, also known as NIB, in U.S. District Court in Washington.

Bosma is an NIB agency and offers employment and rehabilitation opportunities for the blind, but the Supreme Court ruling last year could have a grave impact on its efforts.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Veteran’s affairs should follow a 2006 law giving priority to working with veteran-owned businesses. But advocates argue the VA interpreted the court ruling too broadly when it quietly changed the rules in March. They say the VA focused on for-profit businesses owned by veterans while ignoring a separate 1938 law, which also grants priority status to more than 550 nonprofit vendors that employ the disabled and blind to produce and sell goods to the government.

Lou Moneymaker, president and CEO of Bosma Enterprises says it could be detrimental to the organization, which is the largest employer of the blind in the state.

“If this rule stands as is, we would lose people, both sighted and blind,” Moneymaker says. “But I’m more concerned about the people who are blind because the unemployment rate is so high.”

Moneymaker says Bosma could lose about $36 million.

With the lawsuit, the organizations hope veteran-owned businesses and the blind can both get preferred sourcing.

“This isn’t an issue, from our perspective, of being against veterans,” says NIB CEO Kevin Lynch. “But it is about the issue of the programs being able to co-exist.”

Kelly says 22 percent of his nonprofit’s business comes through contracts with the VA, some of which are up for renewal next year. He said there are a number of veteran-owned businesses that would likely be chosen over him under the current rules.

The national unemployment rate for the blind is around 70 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

 

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