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ARLINGTON, Va. — For Dawn Halfaker, the hardest part about being wounded was figuring how, being unable to continue her career path, she could fulfill a sense of purpose.

In June 2004, Halfaker, then a first lieutenant with a military police unit, was wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade near Baqouba, Iraq, and lost her right arm.

Ultimately, Halfaker, 27, said she decided to work for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, but that required her to start her own business, about which she knew nothing.

“They don’t teach you this in the military,” said Halfaker, now CEO of the Washington-based firm Halfaker and Associates.

To help veterans in similar situations, the Defense Department has a plan to award $6 billion in contracts to small businesses run by disabled veterans by 2010, officials said.

Halfaker said the efforts are important because penetrating the Defense Department bureaucracy is a daunting task for small businesses, which usually are edged out by big businesses with bigger budgets.

“We want to continue to serve, but just in a different capacity and DOD has somewhat of responsibility to enable us to do that,” she said.

The efforts have shown progress since the program’s inception in 2004, said Charles Cervantes, who oversees day-to-day operations for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program.

So far, the number of small businesses run by disabled veterans that are registered with the Defense Department has more than doubled, from 5,000 to more than 12,000 Cervantes said.

But while the Defense Department is awarding more contracts to businesses run by disabled veterans, it is still far from its goal of awarding 3 percent of contracts to such businesses by 2010, officials said.

In fiscal 2005, the Defense Department awarded $1.1 billion in contracts — or about 0.5 percent of all contracts — to small businesses run by disabled veterans, officials said.

Frank Ramos, the program’s director, said the Defense Department is negotiating with a disabled veteran-owned firm to look into whether the program can meet its three percent goal.

“I’d like to think that we’re going to make it,” Ramos said. “We’re putting a lot of effort, a lot of passion and a lot of resources into striving to achieve this goal.”

For more information, go to the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program Web site at: www.acq.osd.mil/osbp/programs/veterans/index.htm.


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