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Keith King: Working It


Keith King has been an outspoken advocate for veterans for thirty years. Not that he wanted to be. In fact, during the first decade following his return from Vietnam, he didn’t think veterans’ issues should be discussed at all.

“Jack Devine showed up at a radio station in Michigan where I was working,” King says. It was 1980, and Devine, until last year VVA’s National Vice President, was then a Vietnam veteran working with a handful of others to start a group to represent the needs and interests of Vietnam veterans in the state.

“When Jack was interviewed on the air he talked about Agent Orange and how Vietnam veterans have these mental health problems,” King says. “It really angered me because he was talking about things like post-traumatic stress, things that I felt were very personal and nobody should talk about. I had my own PTSD but I didn’t know it at the time. So when he finished the interview I confronted him. I was really pissed off.”

King says Devine invited him to meet the others he was working with. “I went. I met about seven or eight guys in a room. It took about fifteen minutes, and suddenly I felt I was home. I was with brothers.”

Like King, the others were all combat veterans of Vietnam. “I’ve always thought that if you’re a veteran, you’re a veteran no matter where you served,” King says. “But these guys—we had shared things. I knew that they knew.”

King had spent most of 1970 in the Central Highlands, originally deployed as an Army MP but only for a short while. “Less than thirty days there, they formed a combat support team that ran convoys. We ran hot.” King manned an M-60 during the runs, eventually serving with two companies that provided the convoys.

When he returned, “I took ‘Vietnam veteran’ off my resumé,” he recalls. “Very few people knew about my service.” But when Devine introduced him to the other veterans, King says, it became clear that “if we don’t take care of each other, no one else will.” Keith King joined Devine’s group, which became the first Vietnam veterans’ organization in Michigan and later became VVA Chapter 9, the first VVA chapter in that state.

King’s considerable professional accomplishments have been interwoven with his commitment to helping other veterans, particularly service-disabled vets like himself (rated 30 percent for both PTSD and hearing-loss from that M-60). His advertising and public relations firm, Keith King & Associates, which he started in 1998, has been instrumental in getting pro bono ads placed for veterans’ causes. The firm itself does not charge veterans for any work.

Last May King was named Veteran Champion of the Year by the Michigan region of the Small Business Administration. A few weeks later the main SBA office in Washington presented him its National Veteran Champion award for 2012. Both awards recognized him, as the national SBA office stated, for being “a service-disabled veteran who is passionate about helping fellow vet entrepreneurs.”

“Your consistent efforts to help advance veteran small business interests, coupled with your demonstrated concern for the veteran community in general, makes you an outstanding champion,” the SBA wrote in a letter.

King had been instrumental in getting the Michigan Legislature to establish a 3-percent goal for awarding state contracts to service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses (SDVOBs). He also created a Michigan SDVOB roundtable to advise lawmakers on the progress of the program.

But helping anyone would be difficult were King not the successful businessman he is. With a dozen contract associates and annual gross revenues of $900,000, KK&A has established long relationships with both commercial and governmental clients. Not surprisingly, many relationships are veteran-related.

For instance, one of the first federal government contracts King’s firm secured was from the General Services Administration for developing a directory of all SDVOBs in the country. Also, the VA hired KK&A to develop a big marketing campaign to inform veterans, their families, and soon-to-be-veterans in Vermont and New Hampshire about VA-provided medical and mental health care in northern New England.

The VA’s National Center for Patient Safety, in conjunction with its Pharmacy Benefits Management, hired KK&A to evaluate current veteran literacy of VA prescription labels.

“We have over ten years of contracting with the VA, the National Institutes of Health, GSA, and the U.S. Army National Guard,” King said.

Asked what the accolades mean to him, King replied: “I hope it will spur other guys like me who’ve wanted to own their own businesses and let them know there is help. You can do it.”

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