Q: Will the proposed new "G.I. Bill of Rights" do anything to help veteran-owned small businesses? — Will
A: Writing this as I am on this Memorial Day weekend, I wish that were so, but it's not. The new G.I. Bill would help returning veterans with education, and it would help small business owners hire better qualified veteran employees, but it is not intended to help veteran small business owners per se.
That said, there are nevertheless some very good programs out there for the veteran entrepreneur. (More on that in a moment.)
First, some background:
As World War II wound down, Congress passed the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. That law gave every veteran the financial wherewithal to go to the college of their choice.
That is no small thing.
Fully 90% of enlisted men and women do not have a college degree because most enter the service right after high school. At the same time, almost 400,000 service men and women now leave the armed forces every year. This means that most end up entering the job market without much-needed higher education.
And employers, small business and large corporation alike, often like to hire employees with a college degree. But without a G.I. Bill for today, these troops are left to their own devices.
Yes, over the years, Congress has increased the amount offered for veteran education, but it still lags far behind the current cost of a higher education.
That is why Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia introduced a new G.I. Bill. His legislation proposes to raise the annual allowance for college to about $22,000 (it is less than half of that now). This would be enough to pay tuition, housing and living expenses at any public university.
Don't we owe these vets at least that much?
Apparently the president and his military brass, worried that the bill would hurt retention efforts, do not think so. Said one Pentagon official last month, "If the benefit is too large, many troops will leave the military after their first term."
Nevertheless, last Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed an Iraq war spending bill that included the new G.I. Bill. What will happen to the bill is unclear as President Bush has vowed to veto the spending bill.
But as I said, there is good news, too. There are some significant efforts out there intended to help the veteran entrepreneur. Here are a few of the best:
The Veterans Corporation (Veteranscorp.org): A great organization that helps all vets, including service disabled veterans obtain the tools and resources they need to be successful entrepreneurs. Specifically, they help with access to capital and bonding and entrepreneurial education.
The SBA Office of Veterans Business Development:This SBA program helps veteran small business owners in a variety of ways — counseling, advocacy, training and so on. Importantly, the office also runs Veterans Business Outreach Centers (VBOC) which help veterans start, run, and grow their businesses.
Center for Veterans Enterprise (vetbiz.gov): The CVE works to improve the business climate for veterans, minimize barriers, and to inform the public about the benefits of working with veteran-owned small businesses.
The one last thing we can do to help the small business owner and the veteran small business employee is to pass the new G.I. Bill.
Today's tip: Over the past year I have been working to put together a comprehensive free program to help veterans start their own small business. It's not an easy thing to do, especially in this economy, and if you would like to help, we would like to hear from you. Shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ask an Expert appears Mondays. You can click here to see previous columns. Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer, author and speaker who specializes in small business and entrepreneurship. His latest book is The Small Business Bible. You can sign up for his free newsletter, "Small Business Success Secrets!" at his website —www.mrallbiz.com.