Plan would give vets help starting businesses

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A new proposal from a veterans’ advocacy group aims to combat unemployment, stimulate the economy and help veterans start their own small business, but navigating it through the turbulent waters of Congress may prove tricky.

The idea comes from the Patriot Enterprise Project, a nonprofit based at Fort Meade in Maryland that develops and promotes legislation and programs for veteran business ownership. According to Andy Gibbs, the project’s chairman, it sprang from a concern about the underuse of G.I. funds to help ex-service members attend college.

Using G.I. funds to attend college is one of the perks the government pushes in getting young men and women to enlist to serve their country, but 40 percent of veterans will never take advantage of this benefit, said Gibbs.

To provide an alternative, Gibbs has developed a proposal that could also help the sagging economy, although it might cost the federal government more in the short term.

Known as the Vet Biz G.I. Bill, the proposed legislation, which was delivered to House Speaker John Boehner earlier this month and is expected to be laid on the table in a matter of weeks, it would allow veterans dating back to the Vietnam War to receive the monetary value of a college education they would have received under the existing G.I. bills to start their own business, complete with management training and oversight for the veteran from former professionals in the field.

“I was doing research last year about the job situation for veterans, and the numbers regarding unemployed veterans were staggering,” Gibbs said. “The highest unemployed veteran age groups are 18- to 24-year-olds, which is cresting at over 30 percent unemployment, and those over 55. This led me to look at the situation for veterans starting small businesses, and more and more, the solution just became painfully obvious: Give veterans the means to start their own business.”

With an estimated 426,000 veterans in Colorado, the proposal could create a lot of new businesses locally.

“I discussed this proposal with the heads of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs,” Gibbs said. “They liked the idea so much they said I should expect 435 co-sponsors on the legislation.”

While the proposal has its supporters, hurdles that will likely impede its passage remain.

In a year when members of Congress are looking to cut just about anywhere they can, there may be reservations about instituting a program that would likely increase the number of individuals choosing to receive part of the $165.7 billion appropriated for G.I. funding from the government. That money isn’t sitting in a pot somewhere; it’s simply earmarked for use, meaning it only gets paid out if it’s used.

“One would say that’s an awful lot of money to put in,” Gibbs said. “But the federal payroll tax alone would allow the feds to recoup that money in 18 months. Unlike doing a road project, which puts people to work until a road is fixed, this would create a small business that fights for long-term sustainability while generating taxes, creating an average of 12 jobs per small business and producing a substantial indirect economic output.”

Another obstacle supporters of the Vet Biz G.I. Bill would have to deal with would likely come from advocates for higher education.

“It’s been suggested that the biggest opponents to this would be the higher education institutions,” Gibbs said. “They’ve been on a free ride receiving money from the government for veterans who choose to go to college, and they fear that money will go away if more people choose this instead. That’s not the case. We’re simply trying to provide an alternative vehicle to those who wouldn’t have chosen education in first place.”

One veteran who did go to college under the G.I. bill, William O’Brien, of Patchogue, N.Y., said the new proposal is interesting and would have warranted some serious thought had it been around when he was getting out of the Navy.

“I probably would have still taken the option to go to school, but if I knew the option was available, I probably would have thought a little bit about starting my own business,” O’Brien said.

More about the Vet Biz G.I. Bill at www.vetzbizgibill.org