Bi-partisan bill clarifies federal statutes for Department of Veterans Affairs procurement
When President Trump signed House Resolution 4920 last month, the bipartisan bill received little attention. However, it will have an enormous impact on Americans who are blind or visually impaired and their ability to gain employment and contribute to society.
HR 4920 clarifies an unintended conflict created by Congress during its drafting and passage of the Veterans Benefits Act (VBA) in 2006. The conflict involved the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act – a federal statute now known as the AbilityOne Program – established by Congress decades ago to create jobs for people who are blind or significantly disabled.
The new legislation allows AbilityOne and the VBA to coexist and achieve separate, but complementary, service missions.
AbilityOne provides sustainable employment for more than 45,000 people who are blind or severely disabled, including more than 3,000 wounded, ill or injured veterans. Nationally, people who are blind or visually impaired face a 70% unemployment rate – more than 18 times the rate of unemployment for sighted Americans.
Bosma Enterprises is Indiana’s largest employer of Hoosiers who have lost their sight and a leading provider of rehabilitation and training services for people with blindness or visual impairment. The organization would not exist if not for AbilityOne.
In the past, AbilityOne had been exempted when programs such as Veterans First were created. However, when Congress passed the VBA in 2006, it neglected to specify that exemption, creating the opportunity for conflict. The new legislation grandfathers in VA contracts that predate the VBA to restore eligibility for nonprofits who create jobs for people who are blind or visually impaired.
"This is a historic moment for people who are blind or visually impaired, a population facing a national unemployment rate of nearly 70%," said Bosma Enterprises President & CEO Jeffrey Mittman. "Protecting employees’ jobs is our top priority, and this legislation will do just that. We were not seeking preference over veteran businesses but rather clarification of conflicting federal laws. Members of Congress delivered, and we look forward to continuing our work with the VA."
For several years, Bosma has contracted with the Veterans Affairs administration to provide medical supplies to VA hospitals. The organization has been operational throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, shipping hundreds of millions of gloves to VA facilities. Bosma Enterprises employees are proud of their contribution to ensuring the safety of health care professionals caring for America’s heroes.
Mittman, who is Bosma Enterprises’ first CEO with total vision loss, is a veteran himself, serving in the U.S. Army for 21 years, including one combat tour in Afghanistan and three in Iraq. While serving in Baghdad in July 2005, a roadside bomb struck the vehicle he was driving. A month later, Mittman woke up in Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and learned he would never regain his vision.
"We believe Congress never intended to benefit veteran-owned businesses at the expense of people who are blind or visually impaired," said Mittman. "This legislation and the overwhelming support it received confirms that position."
Several members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, championed the bill. Indiana’s congressional delegation was instrumental in moving the legislation forward, with assistance and support from the National Industries for the Blind, Blinded Veterans Association, National Federation of the Blind and American Council of the Blind.
"Bosma and the AbilityOne Program provide people with more than just jobs. They provide dignity, confidence and the ability to live independently," said Lise Pace, vice president of external affairs for Bosma Enterprises. "Without this long-term solution, the total loss of jobs would have been devastating, both for people who are sighted and those who are blind, visually impaired or have significant disabilities. Worse still, thousands of Americans would have lost access to life-changing rehabilitative and support services provided by Bosma Enterprises and other AbilityOne programs."
About Bosma Enterprises
Bosma Enterprises is a nonprofit organization that assists Hoosiers who are blind or visually impaired. Bosma has roots dating back more than 100 years. Our experienced staff (more than half of whom are blind) offer personalized programs ranging from counseling to job placement and training for daily living skills – all geared to help adults gain the life skills they need to remain independent and the job skills they need to stay self-sufficient. To learn more about how you can help our mission, or how our mission can help you, visit Bosma.org.