More than 150 veterans from across East Tennessee gathered at the Millennium Centre on Friday to learn about the latest “Services for Those Who Have Served.”
Hosted by East Tennessee State University’s College of Business and Technology and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, the three-hour educational program on housing, education, small business and federal contracting opportunities for veterans drew participants from all over the Tri-Cities and as far away as Oak Ridge.
Facilitators included local representatives of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the small business counseling programs SBA works with, federal contracting specialists from the Department of Veterans Affairs, military science educators and veteran coordinators from ETSU and Col. Many-Bears Grinder, Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs commissioner.
Topics included veterans’ housing and employment opportunities available through HUD, educational support and tuition assistance for veterans at ETSU, SBA loans and free small-business counseling to help Tennessee’s next generation of “Veteranpreneurs,” and contracting opportunities at seven VA facilities in Tennessee for veterans who are already running their own businesses.
“We’re here to help you get started and the optimal word is ‘free,’ ’’ Tim Heagle, chairman of the Northeast Tennessee Chapter of SCORE, a free small-business counseling program that operates nationwide. “If you want to start a business or if you’re in business and you need help, give us a call.”
“We provide goods and services for all seven (VA) facilities in Tennessee and we need you,” Sue Nagel, deputy director of VA Network Contracting in Tennessee, told the veterans who are business owners. “We see a lot of opportunities now and we see more coming when the new fiscal year starts in October. We definitely have needs and you have what we need.”
It was just the kind of information Ray Sisson, a Vietnam veteran who operates a residential drug and alcohol counseling program in Oak Ridge, came to Johnson City to hear.
“It was beneficial,” Sisson said after accepting Nagel’s invitation to give his contact information to the federal contracting specialist from Veterans Affairs Medical Center at Mountain Home at Friday’s program. “There’s a lot available to us you don’t realize.”
Veteran Adonis Holmes of Rogersville brought his wife, Brandy, and 8-week-old daughter, Ayriona, to the event to learn what they could about any help that may be available for the telecommunications company the young family dreams of launching. The most beneficial thing they came away with, he said, was a list of contact names and numbers to call for free counseling and websites to visit for online tutorials.
“I work in fiber optics right now in Gate City (Va.), and I’m trying to learn all I can before branching off on my own,” he said.
Grinder, who described her most important duty as “taking care of veterans,” challenged those at Friday’s event to use the information they received and to share it with other veterans.
“There are still veterans out there who do not know what they are entitled to,” she said. “Laws change and benefits are added. Veterans who were denied benefits long ago may qualify.
“Let us know how we can help you. We’re here for you and we’d be happy to help you,” she said.