Vietnam Veterans of America
When Joe Wynn appears on Capitol Hill in Washington to testify on veterans entrepreneurship and employment and training issues, as he often has done during the last twenty years, he wears several figurative nonprofit hats: as legislative liaison for the National Association for Black Veterans, as the founder and president of the nonprofit VETS Group, as an officer of the Veterans Entrepreneurship Task Force (VET-Force), and as a senior adviser to Vietnam Veterans of America’s Government Affairs Department.
Joe Wynn, in short, is one of Washington’s most knowledgeable, experienced, and effective veterans’ advocates in matters pertaining to veterans’ employment training and entrepreneurship and in ensuring that veterans receive their earned benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Small Business Administration, and other federal agencies.
Following his high school graduation in 1971 in Washington, D.C., Wynn joined the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. After training, he served in the 66th Strategic Missile Squadron at Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. “I never left the States,” Wynn said in a recent interview. “I wanted to stay in longer and go to other places, but when the Vietnam War had come to an end, they were downsizing. When I couldn’t get an assignment out of South Dakota, I got an honorable discharge [in 1975] and returned home” to the Nation’s Capital.
He went on to receive a BA in Computer Information Systems and an MBA in business at the University of the District of Columbia and Howard University. He worked as an instructor, then later as the Director of Education, for the PTC Career Institute, a D.C. business school. Wynn later served as an advocate for the Milwaukee-based National Association for Black Veterans, a VSO that runs a large homeless veterans program.
NABVETS “formed in 1978 in Milwaukee and my uncle Thomas Wynn was one of the founding members,” Joe Wynn said. “They started coming to D.C. in the nineties to seek funding through the Departments of Labor, VA, and HUD to maintain and expand” their homeless veterans program.
Working with NABVETS “really got me involved in veterans’ advocacy,” he said. “I hadn’t thought that much prior to that about my status as a veteran. That’s something that comes up now in meetings and discussions about how some folks need to be made aware of being a veteran. We’re trying especially to make women aware about being veterans because a lot of women still don’t identify as veterans, especially if they weren’t in combat.”
Banding Together with VVA
In the late nineties Wynn joined VVA and started working closely with Rick Weidman, VVA’s Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs. “We banded together with other VSOs to advocate for the passage of Public Law 106-50, the Veterans Entrepreneurship Development Act of 1999,” he said.
“After it became law, along with other VSOs—including the American Legion, VFW, PVA, and Amvets—we formed the Veterans Entrepreneurship Task Force, VET-Force, with a mission to oversee and promote the implementation of the law,” Wynn said. “I don’t know if I volunteered or got drafted, but I became the task force’s secretary. VET-Force has continued its mission by meeting monthly at various federal agencies to this day.”
Each month, he said, “I reach out to a different federal agency to host the VET-Force meeting and what has become a Veterans Small Business Forum.” Last December, for example, the forum took place at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington. “We had about eighty-five veteran business owners show up,” Wynn said. “The forum allows an agency to bring in its small business specialists and leadership to talk to us about their initiatives, their programs, and their efforts to increase contracting opportunities for veterans and service-disabled veterans.”
PL 106-50, he said, “laid the foundation for the federal government’s veterans’ entrepreneurship programs we have today,” including the Center for Veterans Enterprise, the Office of Veterans Business Development, and the Veterans Business Outreach Centers. The law, he said, “also called for the cooperation and partnership of the Small Business [Administration] Development Centers to offer their services to veterans, which they hadn’t been doing. The SBA had not been very veteran-friendly prior to that time.”
The law, he said, “led to a lot of opportunities for veterans to do business in the federal marketplace, and there were a lot of different parts to the legislation. The law mandates that all federal agencies do a minimum of at least 3 percent of contracting with service-disabled veteran-owned businesses.” However, that’s not how things worked out for the first four years the law was in place.
“They weren’t really doing it from 1999-2003,” Wynn said. “They just kept making excuses.” The task force went to work, and “we were able to get President Bush to issue an Executive Order [EO 13-360] that directed each agency to designate a senior-level official to ensure that the program would be successful for veteran business owners and make it mandatory that they achieve a minimum of 3 percent of their contracting with service-disabled, veteran-owned businesses. That was huge. And that’s still in effect now.”
During the Great Recession of 2008-09, Joe Wynn decided to orient the VETS Group, which he’d formed in 2004 to provide entrepreneurial education and other support services primarily to veterans, toward offering IT training for veterans who were having “a hard time transitioning out and getting into careers and meaningful employment,” he said. The “type of training we offer is computer repair, computer networking, cyber security fundamentals, and some advanced courses for students who progress at different levels. It’s been very meaningful because the IT industry is probably the fastest growing industry across the nation.”
The program, Wynn said, “is solid. We run it four days a week. Most of the classes are offered in the evenings because we are promoting people to be working. If they’re not working, we want them to be looking for work during the day. After a school’s programs are approved by the state, you can apply to the VA for GI Bill approval. We were re-approved a little over two years ago by the VA to accept veterans using their GI Bill [benefits] and veterans coming through VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. That VA office helps veterans who have service-connected disabilities find jobs, start their own businesses, and work toward independent living.”
In addition to the VETS Group’s training component, the program also provides “supportive services as best we can,” Wynn said. “Some students are in need of a transportation allowance. We try to find ways to provide meals to folks who might not be eating too well. We even have homeless veterans coming to the program. So we try to help them with identifying housing. We don’t have a housing program, but we do have a case manager who can connect them with other organizations that provide those types of services.”
Many students are of limited means, so “we’re always trying to do just a little bit more than the training. It’s a good program. We’re trying to keep it going. The challenge with maintaining the program is funding.”
Joe Wynn, who received awards for his veterans advocacy from SBA and the NAACP, has been a special adviser to VVA on veterans’ employment, vocational rehabilitation, and small business issues since 2004. “I ended up coming on board with VVA and with Rick Weidman to continue work with the development of the entrepreneurship program,” he said. “I’m still working with him, focusing on entrepreneurship, small business development, and employment workforce development and training.”
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