VoIP Changes the Lives of Disabled Veterans

Many people know how VoIP has changed lives and how it has allowed communications to take place among people who previously could not afford to communicate. Voice over IP is obviously disruptive but at the same time it has changed the world in many ways. We know about cost savings and how service provider business models have evolved over the years but we have not seen enough media attention on how VoIP is changing lives by enabling people who could not previously be employed to finally get jobs.
There are hundreds of thousands of disabled veterans in the world and in these distinguished American citizens are often unable to contribute to the workforce because they aren’t able to commute to a job.
In May of last year I wrote about how call centers are changing lives and specifically about the excellent work Ken Smith is doing as Program Manager at the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
Here is a refresher from the above article:
In November of 2005, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation or MOPHSF started its first class of 15 disabled, combat wounded veterans in an online call center training program called Veterans Business Training Center or VBTC.

This training was 15-weeks, 600-hours long and focused on the Five9 dialing platform. As it turns out, Five9 gave this agency very favorable rates for their service and they should be commended for doing so.

The foundation allowed the trainees to use this platform to call prospect donors on behalf of the foundation to solicit contributions in the state of Virginia. The program was a huge success. It has now expanded into 25 states, and the VBTC is accepting applications online at its website.

VoIP has allowed corporations to do amazing things like locate call centers around the world but the technology continues to evolve and one of the latest trends in the call center market is homeshoring or hiring agents around the world who work from their homes.
When you couple this concept with agents who are restricted to working exclusively from their homes the result is workers who are grateful to work and employers happy to have access to a talent pool that was once unattainable. Most importantly companies are now able to now hire more disabled US veterans, the people who have made huge personal sacrifices for their country. Hiring these veterans gets you a highly skilled agent and at the same time gives you the personal satisfaction of hiring someone who fought for their country so we can all enjoy the freedoms we have today.
The VBTC is doing an amazing job and the veterans who have gone through the program are in tremendous demand. In addition 3,000-4,000 more veterans are waiting to go through the training program. The 15 week program consists of virtual classroom training, supervisor training, reporting and resume writing.
If you have any question how the disabled veterans feel about this program, take a look at a few of the messages left on the message board of the MOPH:
The MOPH Business Center has taken my abilities as a wounded soldier to convince me that there are soldier’s caring for us who have served our country and given us another chance to succeed in a field that I knew nothing about(computers). The Purple Heart restored my confidence in soldiers helping soldiers.

My name is Ron. I would like to share with you the wonderful things that the Purple Heart Foundation has done for me. Over the past couple of months, I have acquired many skills that will be benefit me in the private sector. The time is now. If you are looking to get a leg up in the workforce. The Business Program at the foundation is the answer. You will be glad to enroll in program. Don’t wait the opportunity is just a click away.
Some interesting facts on the veterans is they are getting jobs paying between $14-$22 per hour and while they are obviously competing with people from other countries there seems to be a greater deal of trust dealing with a disabled veteran than there is working with a person in a country you know little about. So in situations where identity theft or credit card fraud is a potential problem the disabled veterans have a higher likelihood of securing work as compared to lower cost offshore labor.
Approximately 14 weeks ago a class was started on 9/11/2006 with the name Alpha 9/11. This class was dedicated to the 173 veterans who lost their lives in the Pentagon attack five years ago. It graduates next week. At every graduation there is a commencement speaker. Many of the past speakers have been secretaries of defense, secretaries of state and retired generals. Surprisingly I was asked to keynote this graduating class and I am humbled by the request and am looking forward to the honor.
There are few times in my life where my professional career has evoked such emotions of happiness, satisfaction and personal pride all together. The general measure of success in business is growing the top and bottom line while thrashing your competition (at least that is this person’s definition). It is great when you can do all of this while helping legions (pun not intended) of others in the process.
I am told TMCnet and many of TMC’s publications have become vital resources for what this organization is doing. I am proud to support disabled veterans and I thank them for their service to our country. I am equally proud to have been involved in the IP communications industry as it has changed the lives of so many and continues to give opportunity to all.
We are also very excited to announce that Ken and many of the disabled veterans will be exhibiting at the Internet Telephony Conference & Expo in Ft. Lauderdale in a few weeks. They tell me they will have some amazing military ceremonial displays worth coming to the show to see. They will also be giving out military dog tags which apparently are their business cards.
So to those of you in the communications market – here is a chance to see how the innovations of IP communications have improved the lives of disabled veterans around the world. I encourage you to come to the show Jan 23-27 (exhibits Jan 24-27), 2007and say hello to the fine people of the Military Order of The Purple Heart and give them your thanks and support.

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  • Jim Haines
    August 29, 2008 at 9:25 am

    Text of speech given at the National MOPH Convention on 8/14.
    Good Morning…… My name is Jim Haines from Chapter 1781 in Spartanburg SC
    After over 35 years of volunteer veteran advocacy, I was informed about the Veterans Business Training Center. I contacted the VBTC and was referred to Kenneth Smith, the program manager, who personally assured me the VA and many veterans’ organizations were looking for people like me to work from home to help veterans. I am a life member of the MOPH and even though Mr. Smith is not a member he was representing the Purple Heart Service Foundation, so I believed him. Of course, if I had known about Ken Smith’s background with veterans programs, I would have been more cautious.
    But never the less I attended and completed the course and received a certificate from the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation Inc. that states that I have completed a course at The Veterans Business Training Center. I also received a Certificate of Completion for the Telephone Call Center Management Program presented by the Northern Virginia Community College. Although it is somewhat confusing, both certificates were awarded for the same course. It is also the course the VA used my Chapter 31 benefits to pay for.
    The Veterans Business Training Center, a program underwritten and still being promoted by the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation is at best a failure. At the worst it is a scam. Let me tell you why I say this and the graduates of the program agree.
    The program was initiated under the mistaken concept that disabled veterans could be trained at home to work at home as supervisors or managers in the call center industry. The 15 week program is conducted with students interactively working from home on their computers, with head sets and microphones. After graduation and exhaustive searches by graduates, they were told by most employers in the call center industry that supervisory and most other telecommuting positions were given to existing employees who were trained by their respective employers and not by third party training programs such as the Veterans Business Training Center. This fact renders the VBTC as a program to train disabled veterans for call center work, worthless, and the program a failure.
    Another reason for the failure of the program is the program managers and instructional staff are not experienced call center managers or call center trainers, and the subsequent training syllabus was written without any real world experience or value. It would be like going to a riding stable for riding lessons given by people who had never ridden a horse. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.
    Real world call center employers, who have talked to graduates, state the program is not adequate for anything other than telemarketing! Please note that telemarketing is not what the program has been promoted to be, and Mr. Smith and his successor Mr. Zarenejad, (known as Mr. Z) emphatically have stressed that telemarketing is not the purpose of the training. It is also important to know the VA would never support a telemarketing training program.
    There have been approximately 180 graduates of the program. Included in the list of graduates are former and retired disabled veterans from the pay grades of E-2 through E-9, and O-2 through O-6. Of those graduates, 12 have found work in the call center industry, and none have found work as call center managers. Of the 12 people working, 10 of them are relying on technical knowledge obtained before attending the program. (These figures exclude the so called employees of the Combat Wounded Call Center which I will discuss in a moment).
    The cost of this program to the VA, has been over 3 million dollars. The cost to the Service Foundation has been over 2.5 million dollars. Simple mathematics tells us the cost per disabled veteran graduate is over 30 thousand dollars, and the monies expended for each graduate actually employed in the real world call center industry is over 400 thousand dollars. I believe any reasonable person would consider this program a failure, a very expensive failure.
    The actual employment results that I am quoting were obtained by program graduates contacting all other graduates going back to the very first class. These results greatly contradict the false and misleading information disclosed by Mr. Smith and Mr. Z., who claim over 60% employment, as a direct result of the program. Mr. Smith on the original VBTC website claimed 100% employment and that figure is what most veteran applicants believed when enrolling. It is interesting to note that when asked for the names of the employed graduates the program managers always cite privacy issues as a reason for not giving out those names. They have intentionally deceived everyone. That veil of secrecy along with their deceit has very successfully kept the truth from being known. Until now……
    The truth is after graduates contacted the other graduates themselves; they found about 65% were or are employed after completion of the program, however in almost every case their employment is not related to any training they received from the program. It was simply a matter of necessity that they found work and some of those jobs include cashiers, food service, clerical, welders, health care workers, and many other jobs not related in any way with the training program. A reasonable person would conclude the misleading statistics presented by Ken Smith and Mr. Z as program managers, were to continue the training program and their respective employment.
    It is interesting to note that when it became obvious to the staff of the VBTC and the Service Foundation that graduates were not able to find employment and the implied promise of employment was not being met, the stated mission of the program on the Foundation’s web site was changed to cover almost any type of telecommuting work available. However, this fact did not change the success of the graduates in finding work. It just muddied the water a little more. At the same time the program managers started publicly stating that, “we didn’t promise you a job” That’s right Mr. Smith and Mr. Z, you didn’t promise it, you just implied it, and when individuals associated with the Purple Heart Service Foundation make implications like that, veterans tend to believe it as a fact. Maybe that should not be the case in the future.
    This program is a very expensive failure and one that should have never happened to disabled veterans, or those who have donated to the Service Foundation.
    I also stated the program is at worst a scam. Why do I say that? Aside from the fact that Mr. Smith and Mr. Z have intentionally misled, and misinformed everyone about the value and results of the program since its inception, let me give you another example of the quality of individuals that staff the VBTC and the scam they are guilty of. During the last week of the program a “Job Fair” is held. Students prepare a power point computer presentation that coincides with an oral presentation of their resumes. Various employers supposedly sign in to watch and listen to the presenters and if they are interested in a student they would then contact the school and set up an interview with that student. The students were told, however, under no circumstances were they to contact the employers signed in to the job fair. The reason for that is simple. Often those employers were not actually there. The program manager or a member of the staff would sign in and pretend to be an employer. A Job Fair comes at the end of a very difficult 15 week 8 to 10 hour a day training program that was to lead to employment while working from home as a disabled veteran. To let students about to graduate think real employers were actually there to hear their presentations, when they were not, is shameful. When asked for the names of those people representing those employers the program managers refused to give that information and accused the students of not trusting them. Another example of Mr. Zs duplicity is that he asks students about to graduate, and graduates waiting to get a job to write glowing letters about the program. He is very clever in his approach to this request because he implies that cooperation is essential to their success. These are not honest letters written voluntarily by veterans. It places the disabled veteran trying to get a better life under duress, it is deceitful and it is a scam.
    The Combat Wounded Call Center is, or was, or is again, made up of disabled veteran graduates of the VBTC. Very few of the members of the call center are actually combat wounded but I will leave Mr. Smith’s clever choice of that name up to your imagination. Mr. Smith convinced the Service Foundation that a call center that had no experienced call center management, no experienced call center employees, with no business history or experience was a good idea. And once again the Service Foundation agreed to fund Mr. Smith’s endeavor without a reasonable survey of market requirements or a viable business plan, and then spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of Service Foundation donations on Mr. Smith’s assertions that “success is just around the corner” After approximately 8 months it became obvious that as a business the CWCC was a failure, and it closed without ever acquiring a contract or producing any income. Frankly, it never should have opened. It has recently reopened in partnership with Disaboom, which is a web site for the disabled, and once again Mr. Smith, Mr. Z and Mr. Bresser are implying great success for the CWCC, and once again the disabled veteran employees never know from one day to the next if they will have a job, and once again those exaggerated false projections are simply intended to secure employment for Mr. Smith and Mr. Z, just as they have in the past. Many graduates of the VBTC had signed up with Disaboom prior to Mr. Smith’s and Mr. Bresser’s involvement, but all they were finding available to them were telemarketing positions which is what the resurrected CWCC is also offering, which was always denied as a purpose of the training program. After wasting millions, it seems as though Mr. Smith’s, Mr. Zs, and Mr. Bresser’s concept of the training program has changed somewhat. Apparently the purpose is now to train telemarketers, although they can’t admit that because the VA will not pay for training a telemarketer.
    The good people who donate to the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation expect those donations will receive good and responsible stewardship. Often those donations and the time devoted to acquire them come at great personal sacrifice and often those who devote this time are those who have already sacrificed a great deal.
    Let me quote James Blalock, president of the board of directors of the Service Foundation in his answer to Commander Cook’s questions as published on the Purple Heart website. – “it must be reiterated that the MOPHSF was created to serve disabled and handicapped veterans” Mr. Blaylock, if the VBTC program is your idea of serving disabled veterans then apparently after over 35 years of service to disabled veterans I guess I don’t understand the meaning of veterans service.
    Over the years many organizations for the disabled, including veteran’s organizations, have been plagued by scam artists who prey on the disabled and use the system to their own selfish advantage. These people are often very, very clever and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. I am certain the Purple Heart Service Foundation has such people in its midst, and on its payroll. Mr. Smith, and Mr. Zarenajad, have scammed, abused and robbed disabled veterans of their valuable benefits, as well as squandered millions of Service Foundation funds. Others in the Foundation have been complicit in this travesty by failing to provide even the most basic and fundamental oversight, which is something they are paid very well to do. I want to leave you with this fact. The entire Service Foundation board of Directors, including its president and staff has known about this situation for two years and has done nothing to protect these veterans and the Foundation donors. Apparently they find it easier to believe the spin and lies put out by Mr. Smith and his staff.
    I will be here at the end of the meeting to answer any questions you may have and I will attempt to provide any information that you may require concerning this situation. I have a list of graduates. I have signed copies of letters written by graduates to the Service Foundation leadership often signed by the entire class. Some of these letters go back to the very beginning of the program. I have a copy of Mr. Zs graduate placement report and I also have the tax returns for the Service Foundation, which discloses actual reported expenditures of the program. I have a copy of a letter sent to the MOPH national officers and the Service Foundation board of directors. I also have published public information about the very dubious background of Ken Smith who is the architect and promoter of this abusive scam, and if you are interested, I also have a prepared written solution for dealing with this abuse. Let us stop living in denial about this program that harms veterans and donators and shine a light on it once and for all.
    Thank you for your time.

  • Jeff Redding
    August 30, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Hello All,
    I am a 100% service connected disabled veteran due to blindness (not totally blind, thank God). I am also a graduate of the MOPH VBTC.
    The program training was challenging and very educational. It teaches a wide range of veterans, different wars, ages, races, locations, and types of disability. It was great to be networking and meeting all the students and staff.
    There were some problems in management, vets were treated a bit like they were still on active service. All in all it was a wise investment of a few months of my life.
    I am still waiting for them to start the Disabled Veteran Owned Business Training. Even without the business training, I still learned enough, and it gave me the motivation to start my own business.
    Now I am selling VOIP Technology and have developed some websites to promote the use of VOIP in Distance/Language Education, etc…
    Hopefully their training and my motivation will turn my business dreams to reality. If the MOPH VBTC starts training for self employed vets, I will be the first in line.
    Jeff Redding

  • Bruce Berends
    February 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Mr.Haines is 100% correct. Smith and Z are scam artists in the first degree. I quit the program 3 days before the so called “graduation”… With no remorse. I work as a Salesman at a local dealership, and am successful. But that VBTC Training was pure Rubbish! They lined their pockets and made a mockery of the U.S.Government. How they are still in business is beyond me!
    Bruce Berends

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