Words by Brooke Nason, Contributing Editor at MilitaryVeterans.net
The GI Bill has long been used to further the education of veterans after they have finished serving their country. Now there could be another potential use for these funds. Back in July, the Senate Small Business Committee advanced a measure that would give 250 veterans the chance to use their GI Bill funds as a grant to start up a business instead of using it for college tuition. This bill named the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act of 2015 would start with a three-year pilot program to find out if this is a beneficial option for veterans to have when deciding where to use the GI money that they earned through their service.
This is not a new concept to be discussed, however. This idea has been brought up on Capitol Hill a number of times since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was put into action. However, lately it has been gaining notice and is currently part of the platform for presidential candidate Jeb Bush in his appeal to veterans.
There are many supporters of this bill including the National Guard Association of the United States, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the American Legion. These groups stand behind the bill praising it as a way for the troops to make a more easy transition from military to civilian life. The bill sponsor, Sen. Jerry Moran stated this idea is “common sense” giving veterans “more flexibility and choice in their benefits to achieve their goals.” He went on to say “veterans have the capabilities, have the training, have the experience, have the desire and the attributes necessary to start and grow a business.” Todd Connor, CEO of The Bunker, an incubator program for veteran-owned startup businesses makes the argument that only 50% of the military veterans choose to use their GI Bill and only 48% of those that do graduate. Furthermore, a diploma does not guarantee employment. He believes that the intended purpose of the GI Bill is to help the veterans transition into the civilian world and they should be able to decide how they want to do that.
The bill does, however, have its critics as well. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Student Veteran of America have voiced their opposition to this idea. They believe it would add confusion to a clearly defined program. The vice president of the Student Veterans of America, Will Hubbard, was reported as saying “The GI Bill is an education benefit. This is like using a VA home loan program to pay for medical bills instead of a mortgage. That’s not what this benefit was intended for.”
Hubbard is in support of helping to enhance and expand small-business programs for veterans, just not pulling money from their education benefits. VFW deputy director Ryan Gallucci also thinks that helping veterans start up a business and providing grant support would be beneficial, however, it should be a complimentary program to the education allowance and not put the veteran in a situation where they must choose one or the other. He is afraid that if the budget allocated for GI benefits is used in another manner that it may not be available to veterans in the future if “we keep chipping away at it” he stated.
If this program is put into action, veterans participating would be required to complete entrepreneurial training courses and business plan development programs before they would receive any money grants. Depending on the veteran’s GI eligibility and place of residence, these grants could total more than $60,000.
Even though this bill has a way to go and no set date for a start time, critics fear it has already caused a stir in motivating ideas on different ways to spin the GI Bill benefit in the future. Hubbard commented “We don’t want people to see (the GI Bill) as a pot of money that can be used for all sorts of things.”