[Fox News] Kentucky company supplying eyewear to veterans criticized for quota system

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A Kentucky-based company that supplies eyewear to veterans has received some criticism for pressuring employees to upsell. 

PDS Consultants was awarded a contract in October to supply veterans with eyeglasses through PDS Optical, replacing Superior. 

Sources close to the matter told Fox News Digital that employees were given a monthly quota and pressured to upsell frames to veterans that are not covered by the VA – meaning that veterans, if the allegations are true, have had to pay more money out of pocket. 

One source said the company docked opticians’ pay, and opticians were told they could make up the loss in commissions by upselling veterans. 

“For us to have a decent paycheck, we have to try to upsell everything to the veterans just to get a certain percentage of commission from the sales,” the source said.  

The source recalled one incident where a veteran was undercharged for eyeglasses, and the company forced an optician to call the veteran back and ask for more money.  

“You feel uncomfortable calling somebody back and asking, ‘can you give me your credit card number over the phone? I undercharged you. You still owe me $60,’” the source said. 

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Another source told Fox News Digital that they “personally found it offensive to do some of the things that [PDS] were doing.”

“The upper management was terrible. Basically, called us liars. And then from there, setting sales goals. With the prior contract, with Superior, there were no sales quotas to be met,” the source said. 

The same source told Fox News Digital they received negative complaints from veterans “on a daily basis.” 

“We went from having a very wide array of frame selection that the veterans could choose from – that were very good frames – to very few frames,” the source. 

The source qualified that sales quotas are not bad in and of themselves, but felt that selling should not be the purpose when “you’re brought in here to provide a service to the veterans.” 

“When you have a contract with a company that does that for the veterans, I mean, maybe I feel like it’s wrong, other people may not,” the source said. “But I feel that opticians sales on something should be provided to – especially the services, I don’t think it’s right.” 

Internal emails reviewed by Fox News Digital appeared to confirm this portrayal, showing managers encouraging employees to surpass their sales goals from the month prior. 

“As we gear up for December, I’m excited to challenge you to not only meet but surpass our sales goal,” one email reads. “Building on your impressive performance in November, let’s set our sights on a December goal of $30,000 in sales.”  

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Don Overton, President of the Blind Veterans of America, said his organization has been receiving concerns from people close to the process and are displeased with PDS’ quota system. 

“We were beginning to learn that the issues weren’t just at the interface of the way that these contracts were being awarded, but then it was the demands of the opticians to sell,” Overton told Fox News Digital. 

Overton explained a process whereby veterans go in for a pair of eyeglasses that should be part of their comprehensive healthcare benefits, but then are lured into buying a more expensive pair. 

“[The veterans] go down to the optical shop and they see just horrendous antiquated, very inexpensive glasses on the board. And this is what they get,” Overton said. “Or then the new shiny board comes out with what anybody is going to want. A better pair of glasses that are going to be more comfortable or are probably going to hold up better.” 

“This is how they’re making up the difference right on the backs of veterans,” Overton said. “And these should be earned benefits.” 

The VA employee source who spoke to Fox News Digital said: “It hurts me to my heart to see that because I know a lot of veterans are struggling financially and they say, ‘I gotta see. There’s nothing I can do. I don’t have a choice but to pay.” 

PDS pushed back against these criticisms when reached for comment by Fox News Digital and defended its business practices, noting that its majority owners are veterans of the U.S. Army, both having served deployments in Iraq.    

“PDS stands by the quality of our eyeglass products and services, creating tremendous value for our Veterans and taxpayers every day,” PDS Optical Vice President Robb Yopps told Fox News Digital. 

Veterans are provided “no cost items” as agreed upon in the VA contract, Yopps said. If veterans wish to purchase an upgrade or a second pair, they do so out of pocket because it is in addition to their VA benefit. No veterans, Yopps said, are being pressured into upgrading their glasses or making additional purchases. 

Yopps said allegations that employee salaries are compensated by commission have been “repeatedly rejected as speculative (and untrue) when raised before the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which administers the U.S. government’s bid protest program.” 

Yopps added that prices for the VA, contrary to allegations, have “decreased substantially,” compared to the previous vendor, benefiting the U.S. taxpayer. 

“PDS is proud of the service we provide to the VA and our nation’s Veterans, providing value to those who served just like us,” Yopps said. 

The VA told Fox News Digital it has found no evidence of price increases after PDS won the contract, nor has it received any direct veteran complaints about the vendor. 

“Veterans who are eligible for prescription eyeglasses from the VA do not pay higher out-of-pocket costs because the prescription eyeglasses are provided to veterans at no cost,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said. 

Contracts are awarded, Hayes said, based on fair and reasonable prices, subjected to a multi-step analysis. 

The Federal Acquisition Regulation requires that all offers, with separately priced line items, be analyzed to determine if the prices are unbalanced. If price analysis determines a price is unbalanced – where one or more line items are significantly overstated or understated – a contracting officer will proceed to a two-party analysis to consider the risk of paying unreasonably high prices and the risk of unsuccessful performance.  

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