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Defense Logistics Agency Employees Honor America's Veterans

Once a soldier, always a soldier. For warfighters fed, clothed, fueled and equipped by the Defense Logistics Agency, the odds are increasingly good that while that support changes shape as a service member crosses into veteran status, it endures.  

DLA serves prior military members by storing medical supplies used to treat patients at Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities, connecting veteran-owned small businesses to government contracting opportunities, giving them jobs and even hosting events like picnics. 

Storage for VA Health Clinics 

DLA Distribution's partnership with the VA began early in the pandemic as the VA bought COVID-19 test kits and personal protective equipment for use in 1,300 nationwide clinics.  

Multiple pallets of boxes sit in a warehouse.
Equipment Supply
Personal protective equipment owned by the Department of Veterans Affairs is stored at Defense Logistics Agency Distribution for over 1,300 nationwide clinics to ensure they have enough supplies to face a COVID-19 outbreak in fall 2020.
Photo By: Matthew Mahoney, DOD
VIRIN: 200902-D-VQ057-0002Y

"The VA was concerned they may not have enough storage space to accommodate its large pandemic-related PPE purchases, so they reached out to us to see if we could catch the material coming in from their vendors," said Jim McCormack, DLA Distribution's deputy director of business development.  

An interagency agreement signed in August 2020 put DLA in charge of storing and shipping VA-procured and owned personal protective equipment. It made sense, McCormack said, because DLA was already storing similar items for active-duty customers and understood storage conditions.  

VA leaders also sought DLA's help in accepting vendor shipments of blood collection tubes that were in high demand but short supply.  

"This allowed the VA to maintain oversight of all available inventory so they could ration to meet the critical needs of their clinics," said Shala Pulgar, a DLA Distribution business development specialist. 

DLA Distribution centers in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, and San Joaquin, California, have issued over 38,000 orders to the VA as of Oct. 27. The volume may seem small, but the work is critical. 

"This is a no-fail mission for them as they support America's veterans, and that makes it a high priority for us," Pulgar said.  

DLA Distribution works with the U.S. Transportation Command and contracted carriers like FedEx and UPS to quickly get supplies into clinics' hands, she added. Urgent orders are shipped overnight; routine orders are shipped using the most cost-efficient method, usually by ground.   

The agency began working to improve veteran care, too, by entering a memorandum of agreement in 2019 to increase VA access to DLA Troop Support's worldwide procurement system for medical and surgical items. The move helped leverage economies of scale and reduce costs to the VA and veterans.   

Personal Support to Veteran-Owned Businesses 

Veteran-owned businesses are a key part of DLA's supplier base, providing everything from clothing to pipefitting. In fiscal 2023, DLA had contracts with about 1,000 veteran-owned small businesses, over half of which were owned by service-disabled veterans. DLA's small business professionals work daily to help vendors navigate contracting processes, and their individualized support helps build a healthy defense industrial base that includes those who've served. 

In 2021, Jon Ferguson, a business opportunity specialist for DLA Land and Maritime and a Marine Corps veteran, took a call from a veteran-owned business in Ohio looking to partner with the government for the first time. He connected the rep to a local APEX Accelerator, which provides technical assistance to businesses interested in selling products and services to the government. But Ferguson's help didn't end there, and six months later the company won its first DLA contract. 

"With some technical help from the APEX, I went through the process with him from cradle to grave. I'd venture to say we talked probably 15 times in all. We should probably be trading Christmas cards," he said.  

Armenthia Massey, a small business professional at DLA headquarters, attends events such as the Air, Space and Cyber Conference to support service-disabled veterans with small businesses. She considers helping them understand contracting processes — including the Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business Program where DLA reserves contracts exclusively for SDVOSBs — to be as much a part of her job as helping them figure out where their products or services fit into DLA's supply chain.  

"Our veterans have firsthand knowledge of what our warfighters need, and many of them want to bring those items to the marketplace now that they're out of uniform," Massey said. "We want to leverage our veterans' innovative ideas to meet current and future needs."  

Surplus for Homeless Veterans 

Homeless veterans also receive surplus items managed by DLA Disposition Services at nationwide VA stand-downs, where veterans get free food, clothing, health screenings, benefits counseling and other assistance. The promise of items like rain gear and sleeping bags is a big draw for veterans who are financially struggling or braving harsh winter weather.  

A man shakes hands with a woman as they talk.
Veteran Encouragement
Veteran Reggie Howard previously experienced homelessness. Here, he encourages a Grand Rapids veterans stand down attendee during the city’s outreach event in 2022.
Photo By: Jake Joy
VIRIN: 220811-D-GV919-0123

"Everybody wants a pair of boots," said Don Donahue, a VA outreach coordinator in Chicago who's ordered surplus items from DLA since 2014. In 2022, he ensured 400 pairs of boots were available for local veterans.   

"For the ones who are truly homeless, the boots, duffels and coats are huge," he said.  

A volunteer hands out duffel bags.
First time volunteer Valerie Matkaitis hands out military duffel bags at the start of the Chicago veteran stand down surplus property line. The Red Cross disaster response worker said she wanted to help meet and greet attendees and gave the stand down high marks. “I think it’s amazing,” she said. “Everyone that’s been through and the volunteers both have all been wonderful. I’d definitely volunteer again.”
Photo By: Jake Joy
VIRIN: 220624-D-GV919-126

The items are made available through DLA's Reutilization, Transfer and Donation Program, which takes in excess military equipment that then becomes available to other federal agencies such as the VA. Item availability depends on unit turn-ins, but Josey Kidd, who oversees 13 special programs that connect other federal agencies with excess military equipment, said his team alerts the VA coordinator when there are large volumes of property that could be helpful to veterans.   

DLA provided over 176,000 items to support almost 45,000 veterans at VA stand-downs in fiscal 2023, according to DLA and VA records.  

Providing surplus items to homeless veterans helps protect taxpayer dollars and shows the nation's veterans they're still appreciated, Kidd added.  

"Being a veteran myself, I have a great sense of pride working at DLA Disposition Services because we interact daily with our warfighters, and we're able to provide items some of them may need in other stages of life," said the former Navy logistician. 

Veterans on the Job 

Veterans made up about 31% of the federal workforce as of fiscal 2018, according to a 2021 report from the Interagency Veterans Advisory Council.  

"There are a lot of veterans in the federal workplace in general, and that includes organizations DLA partners with like the Defense Health Agency and Federal Emergency Management Agency," said Joe Brooks, chief of DLA's Whole of Government Division. "We support veterans in so many capacities, not just by providing supplies but also by working alongside them as we apply a whole-of-government solution to common problems."  

Two uniformed service members inspect equipment onboard a ship.
Inspection Time
Navy Lt. Nicholas Swanda, forward, and Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Norman Williams inspect pressure valves in the torpedo room of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alaska. The Defense Logistics Agency partnered with small businesses, many of them veteran-owned, through the Small Business Innovation Research Program to source salinity cells for the SSBN in March 2023.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Eli Buguey
VIRIN: 180724-N-LI612-1013Y

DLA records indicate that almost half of employees are veterans. DLA Distribution San Joaquin was named Veterans Employer of the Year for its veteran hiring campaign by the California Employer Advisory Council in 2019. 

Though most veterans join the DLA workforce by applying for open positions through USAJOBS, some enter through the DLA Pathways to Career Excellence program. Currently there are 165 veterans participating in the two-year training program, said Fontez Wilkerson, a DLA Human Resources specialist. Jason Searls, an inventory management specialist with DLA Energy who uses a service dog to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, is one of them. People stare and whisper when they're together in public, he admitted, but his DLA coworkers make him feel like he and Hawkeye belong.  

"I am able to continue providing for my family, being present with them, and now serve my brother and sister warfighters," he said.  

DLA employees – those who've served and those who haven't – often find ways to praise veterans. Last year, a DLA Aviation team in Richmond, Virginia, created a Veterans Wall of Honor with photos of over 50 veterans who work in the directorate.  

"This wall is a reminder of those men and women I connect with every day. It is nice to know that I am among those who are devoted to the service and who continue to sacrifice," said Michelle Jones, a Navy veteran and management assistant for the Supplier Operations Equipment Manufacturer Directorate.  

Another DLA Aviation team hosted a cookout for veterans and employees at a VA medical center in June.  

"Events like this are all about giving back and maintaining that spirit of service that we share," said Marine Corps Col. Michael Kline, chief of the Marine Customer Facing Division. "Whether you currently serve or have served in the past, at the end of the day, we are all brothers and sisters through our service to our country."  

Several uniformed service members stand around a gravesite.
Lewis Gravesite
Service members assigned to Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa stand around the grave of World War II veteran Arthur Lewis before a burial honors ceremony at the New European Cemetery in Djibouti City, Djibouti, Oct. 28, 2021. Nathan Reynolds from Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime worked with Lewis’ daughter and the Department of Veterans Affairs to get the gravesite marked.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Dwane R. Young
VIRIN: 211028-F-NX702-1005Y

DLA Land and Maritime's Nathan Reynolds even made worldwide news in 2021 for helping to get a headstone placed on the grave of World War II veteran Arthur Lewis. Reynolds was serving as a customer account specialist in Djibouti when he noticed a request in an online database for gravesite photos from Lewis' daughter asking for help getting a picture of the grave marker. After discovering Lewis' grave was unmarked, Reynolds spent months working with the family and VA to get it marked.   

"I care about veterans," he said. "I think it is always important to remember those who have served and to honor them for their selfless service to their country.

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