By the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent count, approximately 320,864 (5.6%) American companies are veteran-owned. These veteran-owned organizations reported an estimated $926.7 billion in receipts, 3.6 million employees, and $176.6 billion in annual payroll in 2021.[1] It’s no wonder these companies are thriving: one national poll found that two-thirds of shoppers prefer to buy from a veteran-owned business.[2]

Many small businesses (those with 500 employees or fewer) that fall into this category are eligible to earn their veteran-owned small business certification (VOSB). Run by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the certification provides potential advantages when bidding on government contracts.[3]

Veteran-owned small business certification also gives companies additional resources and support through the Vets First Verification Program. Through this program, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) allows verified firms owned and controlled by veterans and service-disabled veterans to compete for VA contract set-asides. These contracts are specifically reserved for small businesses.[4]

If you’re a veteran wanting to start a VOSB-certified business or get an existing company certified, here are five points to remember as you navigate the process.

1. You have to be a U.S. military veteran. That means at least one of these must be true:

  • You served on active duty with the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard for any length of time and didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge, or
  • You served as a reservist or member of the National Guard and were called to federal active duty or disabled from a disease or injury that started or worsened in the line of duty or during training.[5]

2. There are specific eligibility requirements. Either you or someone else from your company must:

  • Own 51% or more of the company that’s being registered.
  • Maintain complete control over the business’s day-to-day management, decision-making, and strategic policy.
  • Possess the managerial experience needed to manage the business.
  • Be the highest-paid person in the company (or provide a written statement explaining why the smaller paychecks benefit the organization).
  • Work full-time for the business.
  • Hold the highest officer position in the company.[6]

3. The U.S. Small Business Administration recently took over the certification. As of January 1, 2023, the SBA amended its regulations and began certifying Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Concerns participating in the Veteran Small Business Certification Program.[7] Small businesses seeking VOSB or SDVOSB certification can now submit applications and documents for processing on SBA’s website.[8]

 4. It takes time to complete the process. The application process for veteran-owned business certification can be complex and time-consuming. Expect to fill out forms and provide documentation like your military discharge papers, proof of ownership, and financial statements. You may also have to respond to questions about your military service and business, so be sure to answer these questions promptly, thoroughly, and honestly.

The documents you may be asked to present to earn your veteran-owned business certification include the following:

  • Your Resume
  • Driver’s license
  • Articles of organization
  • Previous tax returns
  • Payroll information
  • Department of Defense Form 214[9]

5. You’ll have to keep your certification up to date. Once you receive your VOSB, you’ll have to keep it current. Your certificate is only valid for a set period and must undergo a re-verification process. How often you do this depends on where you received your certification. For instance, if you receive your VOSB through the VA, you must undergo the re-verification process every three years.[10]

How to Get Started

Certification as a veteran-owned small business (VOSB) means your business can compete for sole-source and set-aside contracts at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA sets aside at least 7% of its yearly contracts specifically for certified VOSBs and SDVOSBs (small disadvantaged veteran-owned small businesses). With certification, you'll also be able to compete for contracts under other qualifying socioeconomic programs.[11]

If you’re ready to get started, read through this comprehensive FAQ from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which published the document for business owners in December. The VA also offers resources for veteran-owned small businesses, and you may also want to check out the SBA’s VetCert page.


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