As veterans in Kansas and across the country separate from the military and transition into civilian life, they have the opportunity to forge a new path. After serving our nation, many veterans dream of continuing their service by giving back to their communities as small business owners and entrepreneurs. According to Kansas City’s Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, nearly one in 10 small businesses in the United States are owned by veterans, and nearly 25 percent of all post-9/11 veterans aspire to be small business owners. We owe it to these American heroes to help them pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.

American veterans are eligible for a range of educational benefits to pursue higher education or specialized training under the G.I. Bill. The original G.I. Bill, drafted in 1944 as The Servicemembers Readjustment Act, was intended to give returning veterans the opportunity to seek training, education and home or business loans to become gainfully employed or to employ themselves. Nearly 49 percent of veterans from “The Greatest Generation” owned their own business and their success was due in part to their benefit. Today, only half of eligible veterans are currently using their G.I. Bill benefit, and according to the VA’s 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report only 48 percent are completing degree programs. While higher education is essential for many, some have a different calling and entrepreneurship may be their path to a successful transition back to civilian life. 

Because many veterans dream of owning a business rather than returning to the classroom, it’s common sense to give them a choice with how they can use their earned G.I. Bill benefit. That is why Senator Jon Tester of Montana and I introduced the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015 (VET Act), S. 1870. This bipartisan legislation would empower veterans to access resources through the Small Business Administration (SBA) and their G.I. Bill benefit in order to become entrepreneurs, create jobs for Americans, and grow our economy.

The VET Act proposes an innovative three-year pilot program – overseen by SBA – that would enable veterans to utilize their G.I. Bill benefit to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise. To make certain veterans have the highest chance of success, they must complete an SBA-approved entrepreneurial training program and develop an SBA-approved business plan among other milestones established by a personal advisor and in coordination with the SBA.

According to a recent survey conducted by Bunker Labs – a national veteran startup incubator – an overwhelming 90 percent of the veterans surveyed would like to use their G.I. Bill benefit to start a small business. And, nearly 95 percent would complete an entrepreneurial training program in order to do so.

The VET Act is gaining momentum in Congress. Just one day after introduction, it was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. It’s also no surprise the legislation is supported by a wide-array of entrepreneur, startup and veterans groups.

As 1 Vet at a Time Founder C. Lynn Lowder put it, “[it] represents a real opportunity for our veterans…the VET Act will provide…today’s veterans the same opportunities that the original 1944 Act provided their grandfathers.” 

Engine Executive Director Julie Samuels added, “As a nonprofit advocacy and research organization that works with a network of startups, pioneers, innovators, investors and technologists, Engine applauds…introduction of S.1870… [the] bill will provide veterans with much needed flexibility when it comes to using their GI benefits, and will make it significantly easier for veterans to participate in the startup economy.” 

New businesses succeed when those with good ideas are willing to work hard to reach their goals, and no group has a stronger work ethic than our nation’s veterans. As we honor our nation’s heroes this Veterans Day, let’s make certain whether they wish to start their own business, commence a job search, or go back to school, veterans are able to achieve the same American Dream they sacrificed so much to protect.