Veterans and GI Bill for Small Business

The Montgomery and post 9/11 GI Bill grants service members access to tuition, living expenses to further education, low cost mortgages and even access to business loans. But almost 80 years after it was signed, what is the biggest issue facing veterans leaving the service? It’s not college, in fact there is very little return on investment for veterans from a four-year degree or even a master’s outside of specialty fields.

It’s about facing the toughest experience of their lives; the civilian transition and competing on a new battlefield they are not trained on.

Imagine moving from a world of rigid structure, where you’re told where to be, and when to be there. You have a mission, a purpose, clear goals and standards. You exist in a community of blunt speakers and battle brothers (and sisters), who will literally take a bullet for you if needed. In facing this transition to civilian life, the hardest thing a service member must do is realign to a completely different set of standards, values and expectations. What we find are veterans, (if they’re lucky!), thrust into corporate, municipal and federal employment bureaucracies, where not only is it is no longer life or death, but it’s socially unacceptable to levy criticism (constructive or otherwise). In many cases you’re surrounded by coworkers who may have record breaking attendance at team-building HR off-sites, but who don’t, and can’t, understand the bonds of comradery and cooperation engendered in the veteran community.

Let’s be honest, in corporate America, people are out for number one.

The military to civilian culture shock can be abrupt and intense … and for some, unfortunately, a recipe for failure. But what do veterans have in spades? Work ethic and ingenuity.

military veterans

The America solider has won every major conflict because we innovated every adversary. So why not have the GI Bill unleash innovation rather than just a college degree that puts you in a proverbial box?

After almost nine years in the military, I observed that virtually everyone I came across had an idea, which if supplied with the proper opportunity, could succeed. The average recipient of the GI Bill will cost the tax payer well over 100k and as we see the rise of millennials entering the workforce, a college degree is becoming less relevant for career opportunities vs. military service and real-world experience.

So why not open the GI Bill to a 50K grant in lieu of tuition payment? Wouldn’t that be a better return on investment for America? It’s a new world of start-ups and ingenuity, not high cost degrees and debt for a job that they could have probably figured out in a few weeks.

Our troops make due with ever dwindling resources as we continue to stretch out our country’s longest war … they can handle [payrolls]!

As with any new business venture, it’s all about capital and repayment. I have been there, I have owned multiple small business during my transition and at times struggled to make payroll or equipment purchases that would have increased my bottom-line significantly.

A small business grant from the GI Bill for a fraction of the actual cost of a four-year degree could not only save the tax payers money, but could push economic growth. This would also change the culture of the entrepreneurial world, providing additional opportunities for other veterans as well. Why? Because as a vet, I would rather hire another veteran who understands my mindset rather than an entitled college kid with a degree in ‘gender studies.’

GI Bill

President Trump already commands a significant amount of respect from the military and this would be a win-win for him legislatively. A bill opening the GI Bill to include an option for a business grant, in lieu college tuition, would be a landmark achievement, as well as an example of the typical “outside the beltway” approach that got him elected in the first place.

More importantly, this would help the transition for veterans into the private sector and provide a framework for reentry that simply doesn’t currently exist.

I think we can all acknowledge that the stats around veteran homelessness, suicide and drug use are devastating and something that every American should be working to fix. I am a true believer in personal agency, but having been through this process myself, it is so clear that there needs to be infrastructure in place to help give these men and women who have served their country a fair chance to succeed in a professional world that is totally foreign to them. A small business grant program would be a first step in the right direction.

– Carl Higbie