Legislation would let vets use GI Bill money to start businesses

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William Crane is trying to start a business around a smartphone app meant for raising money over social media.

Like most young people pushing a start-up, his first obstacle is funding. He needs money for everything from hardware to marketing.

But, if new legislation meant to boost veterans like him makes it out of Congress, Crane’s past service in the Air Force could soon open a door for him.

The Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act of 2015 would give some veterans access to money in the GI Bill – funding traditionally used for tuition -- as seed money for their new businesses. The legislation has passed committee and is working its way to the Senate floor.

For his part, Crane is hoping to access that GI Bill money to help his business get off the ground.

“This app would have been done nine months ago,” he said. “We would have had like a massive marketing scheme.”

The idea of redirecting how GI Bill money is spent has gained support.

Todd Connor, who runs The Bunker, an incubator for veteran-owned start-ups, points out that only half the nation’s servicemembers choose to use the tuition money in the GI Bill. And of them, only 48 percent graduate. After that, there is still no guarantee of finding a job.

He said the spirit of the GI Bill is to help America’s fighting men and women transition to civilian careers, and veterans should be able to choose how to make that transition.

“I believe in broadening the GI Bill to ultimately let the veteran decide what’s good for them -- not higher ed, not the federal government,” Connor said.

Information provided by The Bunker says only 6 percent of new start-ups are owned by veterans.

Contrast that with post-World War II, when 49 percent of returning veterans struck out on their own to build businesses. The Greatest Generation is credited with building the robust, modern American economy.

Republican Sen. Jerry Moran, of Kansas, a co-author of the bill, wants to see that entrepreneurial ambition re-ignited in the ranks of retiring servicemembers.

“Veterans have the capabilities, have the training, have the experience, have the desire and the attributes necessary to start and grow a business,” Moran said.

The VET Act does have opponents, including Veterans of Foreign Wars.

As reported by the Military Times, the VFW criticized re-purposing money that has been traditionally earmarked for tuition, calling the VET Act a potentially troublesome erosion of what has otherwise been a clearly defined program.