In the perspective of civilians, people often overlook the fact that veterans who haven’t experienced combat aren’t necessarily shielded from the profound effects of war. The reality is, whether one sees combat or not, you can still be destroyed if you are placed in an intensely sensitive and highly stressful environment.
A significant number of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have endured traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), with approximately one in five experiencing a mild TBI, often referred to as a concussion. Other prevalent issues encompass post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, excessive alcohol use, and thoughts of suicide. Many veterans grapple with multiple health conditions simultaneously.
What’s more tragic is a great number of women and men experienced sexual trauma, such as harassment and assaults, during their time in the military. These experiences can take a toll on both mental and physical health.
All veterans want to be healed, but in recent years, the unequal access to suitable mental health services that returning U.S. veterans face mirrors the disparities in access to high-quality mental health services experienced by the general population.
This is where Thalia Shurns enters the scene, driven by the passion to help people, especially veterans, the woman decided to establish CARE Agency, jump in the arena of federal contracts in order to provide decent healthcare access to veterans and beyond. Let’s get to know her.
Formal Nurse Take on the Pain Point of Veterans’ Healthcare
“Well, I’ve always liked to help people, and that’s why I’m a nurse. Um, and then I’ve always wanted to work with the VA or in the VA because there’s so many veterans out here that don’t get enough of like healthcare,” said Thalia Shurns, the founder of CARE Agency.
During the pandemic, Thalia decided to dive into some research. She came across government contracting opportunities, specifically on the sam.gov website. Thalia didn’t rush into things, she’s the type to carefully weigh her options. After some thorough research and thought, she took the plunge and signed up for Government Contracting opportunities.
Thalia’s business, Care Agency, is perfectly aligned with her mission to support veterans. They offer a bunch of services, from Lab Services to mental health support through her nonprofit, Care Minds, and even home healthcare.
The thing is, she saw that a lot of veterans are missing out on these crucial services, and that’s where she saw her chance. Thalia’s end game is clear – she wants to give veterans access to comprehensive healthcare, much-needed mental health support, and home healthcare services.
Most small businesses in the federal sector always think they need to have certifications in other to go after opportunities, but Thalia has proven the opposite. In fact, she is not a veteran, but still be able to grab a good deal of Veteran Affairs oriented contract.
In the industry of healthcare, when big names like LabCorp, Quest can be the suitable choice, or they can go directly to hire some local doctor or hospital, those can be safe options. However, what sets Thalia apart is the convenience and flexibility that her business streamlines.
Thalia said, “I said my office, my business is basically convenient. It is very convenient. So, for my clients that I have on a daily basis, they actually send me text messages like I’m always available.”
The woman points out that CARE Agency silver bullet lies in bundling a bunch of services into one, creating a one-stop shop for veterans.
“Just because I mean I have all of these services in one location, and then I’m able to go mobile. So, if they’re not able to come out, I actually go to them. And then my hours are a lot later than the traditional LabCorp, the traditional Quest. Like, I stay open till 8. And like I said, we’re mobile, so we’re more convenient,” Thalia said.
Already have the key to the door, but the contract that she won related to housing service which sounds a bit far from her niche – healthcare. Yet, she was granted the award anyways, that’s because she held the special sauce for this whole meal.
Thalia Shurns’ Swift Success – $2.4M Contract in 50 Days
“This award was for housing, and it was for emergency housing for the VA um for veterans, and yes, there are other companies that are housing VAs in the area, but this one was more towards health care, so they needed a little bit more like extra loving,” as shared by Thalia Shurns.
The genius point here is her approach was to offer additional support, especially for their mental and physical healthcare needs, which other companies either couldn’t or didn’t address fully.
Even with much passion, yet for newcomers like Thalia, it’s hard not to get distracted. Initially, she had reservations about pursuing this opportunity because she didn’t know if this could work. However, Thalia talked herself out of it, and decided to take the leap.
The application process turned out to be quite extensive, involving a 92-page document and review by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). Thalia also needed to provide details about the quantity and award amount, with the ceiling up to $2.4 million for 5 years.
One of the earliest roadblocks that Thalia had to counter was past performance which made her hesitant to continue, simply because she is a newcomer in this game.
Thankfully, she came to Kizzy Parks for a conversation that chilled down her anxiety. Thalia quickly realized that all she needed to do was to list what she did in her past jobs.
As shared by Kizzy Parks, Thalia’s coach, “Another big takeaway is that you didn’t allow the past performance requirements to scare you. They just want to make sure that you’re not going to be a high risk to them, especially in an opportunity like this, which is of medium to high risk.”
It’s the true that Thalia had been going through a roller coaster of emotion in the pre-submitting stage. And it goes the same way when she saw the owner of the contract made an amendment, she thought that they already had their ideal choice, and yet she continued to go deeper into the game.
She said, “I went ahead, and I submitted it that Sunday morning. It was due Monday, but we submitted it that Sunday morning. The guy, the CO, reached out on Tuesday. He said he was on vacation, and he would reach out later that week. I was like, ‘Wow, he responded.’”
Things moved rapidly from there. Her application led to a series of meetings, including a thorough inspection of the location and discussions with various professionals, like nurses, diet nutritionists, and the CO’s assistant. They fired off a barrage of detailed questions, which initially had her feeling a bit intimidated. Though, she soon realized that she had the expertise to handle these questions within her regular job description.
The fact is Thalia’s initial motivation for submitting the application was just to give it a shot, not expecting much, but by connecting her background and her passion, Thalia has successfully created something unique.
It’s not just about housing; Thalia’s incorporated a medical aspect into the equation, which is pretty cool. Thalia, along with her team and experience, boldly embraced the medical side of things.
And that’s her first award to get her feet wet, however, as her path is getting more widespread, the opportunities in her niche is fulfilling everyday which propelled Thalia and her business to the next level, quickly recognized that she’s already in the game, put on seatbelt, she is moving forward to bid on more projects.
Stick to the Niche – Reach out to More Miserable Veterans
Thalia stated that, “I am going to bid on more work. I’ve been attempting to bid on a couple of lab services, but they completely canceled that one, so that one’s done. There are a couple on my local, state, and local levels that I’m bidding on as well. I’m also actively searching in Sam.gov for more opportunities. “
She continued, “Right now, I’m focusing on homeless residential services for the VA, primarily serving veterans. This is my niche, and I plan to stay in this area. While there have been a few other opportunities that I can pursue because they align with the services I already offer, my true niche is taking care of veterans, especially those with mental health and healthcare needs.”
It’s a vast landscape with tons of opportunities for Thalia now, not only at the federal level but also at the state level. The beauty of it is that Thalia has room to establish connections with various departments within the VA. Building these relationships can open up doors for potential work opportunities.
Thalia even applied for a business certification as a woman-owned enterprise for a particular opportunity. However, her application hit a snag because some of the necessary documents were missing.
She tried to sort it out but, well, she ended up missing the deadline for fixing it. The officials informed her that she’d have to wait six months before applying again. While this might seem fair to some, Thalia’s not letting it get her down. She’s pretty chill about it because, in her current business pursuits, that specific certification wasn’t all that crucial.
Thalia is new to this game; however, she’s been though ups and downs that shaped up her experience in this battle. That knowledge was formed by trials and tribulations, also by the mistakes that she wished she would have known in the initial stage.
Pearls of Wisdom – Key Insights from Thalia Major Coup
First, Thalia suggested businesses not to let the initial shock of a massive RFQ document on Sam.gov throw you off. Her tip is to stay cool and not be discouraged by the sheer size. It’s crucial to read through it carefully because, in her experience, only about 10 pages were necessary for the actual submission.
“You need to take your time and read through these RFQs because they contain specific details that the government wants, and some pages are just informational. If healthcare is your field and that’s going to be your niche, then try to stick to your niche, especially for your first contracts. You’ll know that area better than trying to do anything and everything,” said Thalia.
According to her, in the world of Sam government contracts, it’s best not to jump from one type to another quickly. Stick with your niche in the beginning until you understand what you’re doing, and then you can consider expanding. Don’t jump from one thing to another; do something you know you can do and stick with it until you’ve mastered it for yourself.
Thalia’s willingness to make herself available and her readiness to sacrifice for her goals are key factors that will contribute to her continued success and lead her to receiving significant blessings.
When talking about finding opportunities in the space, Thalia highlighted the importance of reading the RFQs carefully because sometimes, it could lead to unexpected opportunities.
“When I was on Sam last night, I noticed there are actually a couple of listings for medical carriers, and there are also some for staffing. I have a staffing agency, so I was planning to print those out today and read them into them. I didn’t initially think they would be available on Sam myself,” Thalia said.
He added, “I assumed Sam was primarily for selling products or offering other small services. However, when I clicked on the names and delved into the details, I realized the variety of opportunities.”
She continued, “For instance, even in some listings labeled as residential, they may also request janitorial services, and I didn’t notice this until about a month ago when I was reading into another residential opportunity. So, it’s essential not to judge based solely on the name; you have to click and read into the details to understand the full scope of the opportunity.”
To add to the insight, Kizzy Parks elaborated that if they’re paying for some type of housing or lodging, it’s more convenient to have the contractor provide cleaning services. They’re not going to have Cassandra, the GS-10, come to the house or facility to clean.
This setup is great because, when small businesses like Thalia’s go after these kinds of contracts, it allows owners to expand their offerings.
With that in mind, businesses can start bidding on janitorial services, courier services, or other types of housing that might not be related to medical services if you choose to.
Back to Thalia, she wants to stress the importance of not taking opportunity names at face value on Sam.gov.
She points out that the titles can sometimes be misleading. For instance, an opportunity might be categorized as “lab service” when it’s essentially about being a “medical carrier.” Her main message is not to make judgments based solely on the opportunity’s name; you need to click on it and explore further.
Thalia shares a personal revelation, mentioning that she only realized this about a month ago, and it was an “ah-ha” moment for her. Consequently, she’s made it a habit to click into opportunities that seem relevant to her business, especially those labeled “lab,” “medical,” or “residential services.”
She then goes on to read them thoroughly, even delving into any attachments, to get the full scope of what’s on offer. Thalia’s advice is that adopting this approach is crucial for effectively navigating these opportunities on Sam.gov.