I must say I am impressed by the lengths that you and others at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Houston Regional Offices Vocational Rehabilitation Services are going to deny me, a 70% Disabled Veteran, his rights. Your efforts go far above and beyond what is typically expected of a VA employee. In addition to the usual derelict of duty expected of everyone, you have now made false statements to not only a member of Congress but now a Senator in order to keep up your ruse. I should congratulate you.
But before we pop open the Champagne bottles, nick our glasses together and talk about how you’ll be spending your bonus check, I should remind you of one tiny little thing: Your actions are wasting hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars.
But we’ll get to that in a’bit. Right now I want to clear up a few misconceptions you have.
Today I received a letter from United States Senator John Cornyn’s office. You see, back in July when I received a letter from your department informing me I would be expelled from the Chapter 31 program I reached out to more politicians and veterans rights agencies. Senator Cornyn’s office was one of them.
After several months of, no doubt, “investigating” the matter, you replied with the following letter:
I realize this is only the first page, but we unfortunately need to take a break here. In your hurry to make edits to your form letter template, you wrote, “It is noted that Mr. Martell has an existing business named Martell Brothers Studios that entails a partnership with his brother.”
Had you spent more time conducting a proper investigation you would have learned that….
- The company is not a partnership, but a limited liability corporation.
- My brother Curtis Martell (an active duty E6 in the Marines, by the way) has not been involved for many years and I currently hold 100% ownership of the company.
In the past I have written response letters to the VA that clarifies the status of the company. It is not my fault that your employees continue to make baseless assumptions and ignore evidence to the contrary that I continually provide.
Let us continue onto page two of your letter.
I have to ask, Kelly Shupak, why must you bore the Senator with trivial details about what the Chapter 31 program is? Do you think he or anyone at his office is unaware of what this program is? You have wasted an entire sheet of paper to state the obvious.
The only piece of information that has any relevance at all to the particular circumstances of my case is, “..Mr. Carey Martell held a traditional position at Internal Revenue service..” which is a false statement because it was actually a seasonal job that was projected to last for a whole three months. Furthermore your observation of “..however he did leave his employment..” ignores the fact I was forced to resign due to the very same disabilities that cause me to be 70% disabled. The constant pain in my joints and muscles aside, I would very much like to see you spend the hours between 6 PM until 6 AM staring at a computer screen with a migraine so overpowering you can’t keep your eyes open, and continually be embarrassed when your supervisor publicly reprimands you for needing to use the bathroom every 15 minutes – 20 minutes due to a combination of irritable bowels and prostatitis that are lasting consequences of my poor reaction to the anthrax vaccine.
Like all disabled veterans, I have my good and my bad days. But it’s the bad days that a supervisor focuses on. It didn’t matter that, most of the time, I was able to do my job. The few times I had troubles are what they focused on, and this has been a problem at every “traditional job” I have attempted to hold.
It is not my fault that some inane executive at the IRS decided to implement software that locked me out of my workstation computer if I was away from the keyboard for longer than five minutes (requiring a supervisor to come down and unlock the system for me). It is not my fault that similar systems are common at other data entry jobs I’ve done, and that these systems are incompatible with my need to frequently relieve myself given the anthrax vaccine royally screwed up my digestive system.
I even supplied my Voc Rehab Counselor Mr. Scott Alexander with a copy of my IRS resignation letter that indicated it was due to challenges I was having at work due to my disabilities. There is no way there can be any confusion as the circumstances of why a three-month temporary job with the IRS ended a month early; at the very least this information demonstrates why I need the Chapter 31 benefits and should not be used as ammunition to deny me those benefits.
However, as is typical of your entire Vocational Rehabilitation Department, you are attempting to use the consequences of my disabilities against me to deny my lawfully requested compensation benefits. Disabilities that, I should remind you, were obtained while serving in the United States Army and most of which are caused by an allergic reaction I had to the anthrax vaccine; which I’d never have received had I not served.
Finally, at the end of page two you acknowledge that an entity other-than the Small Business Association can be used to help me draft a business plan. I will once again inform you that I have been in a business incubator program at Tech Ranch Austin since November ’12.
Furthermore here are some pictures of my time in this program, so that you can know I have not been sitting around doing nothing.
Here I am, pitching to potential investors during ATX Startup Crawl with a prototype of the product loaded on my laptop.
Here is a picture of me standing with other entrepreneurs and delegates from HK Invest.
If you have any further questions about whether I am involved in an entrepreneurial program or possess the knowledge to run a business, here is a direct link to my LinkedIn profile.
Here is a direct link to a video demonstration about the product my business is developing; a multi-channel video programming guide for the internet.
Here is a direct link to our angel list profile, that includes a video presentation covering details of the business plan.
To be blunt, I am not lacking in knowledge or experience.
I am lacking in seed money.
There is a huge difference between lacking knowledge and lacking money, and I do not appreciate the complete disregard of my intelligence AND experience just because you are unwilling to conduct a serious investigation into my complaints about how VR&E counselor Mr. Scott Alexander threw my business plan into the garbage and then claimed I never submitted one.
I have as much right to fund my own business using the Chapter 31 program as all veterans who did so before me. You are purposely preventing my ability to use the program for its intended purpose. You, sir, are part of the problem with the Department of Veterans Affairs and why it is failing in its mission. You have made my life over a thousand times harder than it has needed to be and prevented me from relying on the sole advantage I have as a disabled veteran: the Chapter 31 program. It exists to compensate for the difficulties disabled veterans have with obtaining regular employment or securing business loans.
I’m not even allowed to do things like donate plasma or partake in clinical drug trials, which I otherwise could do to raise seed money for my business. My disabilities screen me out of those programs.
Let us move onto the final page of your letter.
Firstly, the “assigned VRC” (Voc Rehab counselor Scott Alexander) has not expressed any willingness to review my business plan. That’s not a matter of opinion; it’s a fact verifiable by simply listening to the audio I recorded during our last meeting.
Yes, you heard correctly.
- Vocational Rehabilitation officer and Department of Veterans Affairs employee Scott G. Alexander refused to read my business plan and rejected me based on the fact I didn’t have a bank loan.
- Even if I had been “signed off” by the SBA, he said he would have rejected me anyway.
- He refused to tell me what parts of the Chapter 31 guidelines say that I need a bank loan to be approved for the self-employment track.
Secondly, as I have repeatedly pointed out, no where in any VA guidelines does it say the Small Business Association must review anything related to the Chapter 31 program. They are only designated as someone who a veteran can be directed to if they do not know how to draft a business plan. It is not mandatory.
Anyone can read the requirements that Congress set for Chapter 31′s self-employment track. It’s not private information, it’s a public law. There is no rule requiring the SBA to approve my business plan, nor that I need to secure a bank loan first. The Chapter 31 self-employment route provides funding.
It says, very clearly,
“VA will conduct a comprehensive review and analysis of the feasibility of a proposed business plan, as submitted by the individual or developed with VA’s assistance, prior to authorizing a rehabilitation plan leading to self-employment (Authority: 38 U.S.C. 3104, 3116, 3117)“.
Note that it says ‘VA’ and not ‘SBA’.
The only involvement of the SBA is this,
“Evidence of coordination with the Small Business Administration to secure special consideration under section 8 of the Small Business Act, as amended“
Section 8 of the Small Business Act is about how the SBA is supposed to help veteran owned business seek federal contracts. It has nothing to do with “signing off” on a business plan. The law itself even spells it out: “secure special consideration“. And I did “coordinate” with the SBA reps; there aren’t any federal grants for making an internet TV network.
Fortunately it’s not mandatory to have a federal grant in order to qualify for the self-employment track and receive up to $25,000 of seed money (and with a VR&E Director approval, the amount can be as high as $100,000).
There’s also no pre-requisite of obtaining a bank loan and/or any other type of funding before acceptance into the program. The VA is supposed to provide funding for the business (see Section 9-7, Develop and Implement a Self-Employment Rehabilitation Plan) after I am approved for the self-employment track.
The only time the SBA is needed to be involved or review anything is AFTER a Veteran has SUCCESSFULLY completed a self-employment track and wants to get more money. At that time, the VA is supposed to work with the SBA to get a loan. (see 9.09 Limited and Specifically Defined Employment Assistance).
Because I have NEVER completed any Chapter 31 program to the point I am “employable”, 9.09 does not apply to me.
- I have at no point ever asked for a loan from the Chapter 31 program. I have only asked to use money that would have been spent on an associate’s degree that would not result in a steady job, to instead purchase equipment for my struggling business that can allow me to set my own hours and work around my disabilities.
- Your statement that “loans are not available” through the Chapter 31 program is 100% wrong.
I am astonished that someone in your position is so extraordinarily ignorant about the very program you are in charge of supervising. The Voc Rehab program does have loans.
Behold, the revolving fund loan program.
Title 38: Pensions, Bonuses, and Veterans’ Relief
PART 21—VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION AND EDUCATION
Subpart A—Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Under 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31
(a) Establishment of revolving fund loan. A revolving fund is established to provide advances to veterans who would otherwise be unable to begin or continue in a rehabilitation program without such assistance.
(b) Definition. The term advance means a non-interest loan from the revolving fund.
(c) Eligibility. A veteran is eligible for an advance if the following conditions are present:
(1) An Individualized Written Rehabilitation Plan, Individualized Extended Evaluation Plan, or Individualized Independent Living Plan has been prepared; and
(2) The veteran and VA staff agree on the terms and conditions of the plan.
(d) Advance conditions.
(1) An advance may be approved when the following conditions are met:
(i) The purpose of the advance is clearly and directly related to beginning, continuing, or reentering a rehabilitation program;
(ii) The veteran would otherwise be unable to begin, continue or reenter his or her rehabilitation program;
(iii) The advance does not exceed either the amount needed, or twice the monthly subsistence allowance for a veteran without dependents in full-time institutional training specified in §21.260(b); and
(iv) The veteran has elected, or is in receipt of, subsistence allowance.
(2) An advance may not be made to a veteran who meets conditions described in paragraph (d)(1) of this section if the veteran:
(i) Has not fully repaid an advance;
(ii) Does not agree to the terms and conditions for repayment; or
(iii) Will not be eligible in the future for payments of pension, compensation, subsistence allowance, educational assistance, or retired pay.
(e) Determination of the amount of the advance. (1) If the conditions described in paragraphs (c) and (d)(2) of this section are met, a counseling psychologist or vocational rehabilitation specialist in the VR&E Division will:
(i) Document the findings; and
(ii) Determine the amount of the advance.
(2) Loans will be made in multiples of $10.
(f) Repayment —(1) Offset possible. The amount advanced will be repaid in monthly installments from future VA payments for compensation, pension, subsistence allowance, educational assistance allowance or retired pay.
(i) Repayment will begin on the earlier of the following dates:
(A) The first day of the month following the month in which the advance is granted; or
(B) The first day of the month after receipt of the advance in which the veteran receives a subsistence allowance
(ii) The VR&E staff person who approves the advance will determine the rate of repayment.
(iii) The monthly rate of repayment may not be less than 10 percent of the amount advanced unless the monthly benefit against which the advance is being offset is less than that amount.
(2) Offset not possible. If the amount advanced cannot be repaid from the benefits cited in paragraph (f)(1) of this section because the veteran is not in receipt of any of these benefits, collection of the amount due will be made in the same manner as any other debt payable to VA.
But the truly astonishing thing about this entire matter is how the product I am trying to use my benefits to create can actually help the Department of Veteran’s Affairs save money from unnecessary expenses.
Every VA hospital is paying for cable TV to entertain folks in the wait rooms. My system could actually transform the VA’s YouTube channel (which currently has less than 5,000 subscribers) into a 24/7 TV station that could share programming inside those wait rooms that would be more productive to the VA’s mission than playing Fox News all day long.
The monthly subscriptions of $400 per cable box per TV screen, can be replaced with a one-time investment of a $299 Chromebook and a $35 Chromecast per TV screen.
In fact, during my initial meeting with Mr. Alexander I made it very clear I wanted to create a Veteran’s Station in the channel guide using the VA’s videos. This is one of my goals for the network.
Your failure to simply do your job and conduct a proper investigation into the way Mr. Alexander has performed his duties has cost tax-payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, because that is what the Department of Veteran’s Affairs is paying Time Warner and Comcast to have cable TV in all the clinics. Our system would have been free for you.
Yes, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs has plenty of money to give to cable companies so they can play Fox News all day to distract veterans’ attention from how terrible the VA system is, but it can’t spare $25,000 to help a 70% disabled veterans such as myself build a more cost-efficient TV solution the VA can use to further its mission. A Veteran TV station running on those waiting room TVs would educate more veterans about the programs and options they have available.
But maybe that’s something you don’t want and it’s why I’m having such a hard time here? That would explain why you and others at your department keep fabricating rules and making false statements about the nature of the Chapter 31 program. It is very clear you are doing everything possible to prevent me from using the program to fund my business.
One final question…….
VR&E Officer Kelly Shupak, how many disabled veterans have you been screwing over due to your gross incompetence at your job? None of the information in this open letter is new to your department. This is the fourth time I have provided it. I doubt my situation is unique, and I’d be surprised to learn how many complaints result in actual investigations? Especially given you aren’t even well educated about the program you’re in charge of supervising. I should not be able to so easily correct you.
My patience has long since dried up. Since 2005 the VR&E Department has been willfully failing me and my fellow veterans. You can be sure that I will not soon forget the people responsible for making our lives x1,000 harder than they need to be.
The day is coming when my company receives the seed money we need, and becomes hugely successful.
The day is coming when I will devote my company’s resources to operating a Veteran’s focused TV station that will not only educate veterans about their rights; it’ll conduct investigative reports into situations like this effecting other veterans and demand for the resignation of employees such as yourself who have chosen the easy road of pushing papers rather than fulfilling the mission entrusted to you by the public. I will make it the mission of the news team to expose the severity of your incompetence to the public until the government is forced to fire the lot of you.
The day is coming when I may well decide to run for a Senate position myself and become placed on commissions over-seeing your agency so I may have the pleasure of ensuring you and your equally incompetent counterparts are fired without any compensation packages; let’s see how you like it.
I will not forget and I will not forgive. You have betrayed us.
CEO, Martell Brothers Studios
70% disabled veteran
US Army (2000-2005)