On Veterans Day, we honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Our nation is safer and more secure thanks to the sacrifice and courage of all our troops. The unfortunate reality is that too many of our troops return from missions abroad without necessary opportunities to transition their experience into leadership in the civilian economy.  This is unacceptable; and it is also a missed economic opportunity.

Veterans have proven ability to make sound decisions and demonstrate leadership while enduring extremely stressful situations. This experience makes them ideal entrepreneurs. But like all would-be entrepreneurs, they face many risks and hurdles: chief among them, access to capital. Accessing the capital to start a business is a challenge we can and must overcome.

Just before Memorial Day this year, the National Association of Certified Development Companies (NADCO) launched a nationwide veterans lending initiative called VetLoan Advantage in partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The guiding principle is simple: we all have a responsibility to step forward and help our brave veterans make the transition from service in uniform to the civilian economy. To borrow a phrase from the SBA, we want to help take our veterans from boots to business.

Our nationwide network of 270 Certified Development Companies (CDCs) is offering discounts on already low-cost SBA loans. We are firmly committed to expanding the opportunity of entrepreneurship to veterans, because we know it is critical for our national success. And while the risk of starting your own business or owning your own enterprise isn't for everyone, the data shows that when veterans take the risk – as they have in their military careers – our economy benefits.

According to the U.S. Census, there are nearly 2.5 million veteran-owned businesses, roughly 9 percent of all U.S. businesses, which employ more than 5.8 million workers. That is a significant part of our economy and one that we should continue to encourage. And veterans hire veterans. They can be the leaders we need to create jobs and economic growth – if we make the tools and training available. 

In partnership with the SBA, CDCs all across this nation will provide discounts and rebates on commercial real estate and working capital SBA loans that could mean anywhere from $3,000 to $20,000 in direct savings. As any entrepreneur can attest, those kinds of savings are critical when building a business from the ground up. Our collective goal, with the SBA, is to increase SBA lending to veterans 5% every year for the next five years, a particularly critical time as thousands of veterans are projected to rejoin the civilian workforce.

In Fiscal Year 2013, CDCs delivered nearly $4.8 billion in loans to veterans. These SBA loans are providing low-cost, high-octane fuel our veterans use to create and grow small businesses and live the American Dream that they so bravely defended all around the world.

While we’ve made great progress, we must do more to help our veterans transition to leadership in the civilian economy; our mission is ongoing.

This Veterans Day, as we honor America’s bravest for their service – let’s not stop there. Let’s continue to ensure that veterans looking to start and grow small businesses are adequate equipped to do so. It’s not only good for them, good for our economy, and good for America.

Solomon is the president & CEO of NADCO, a DC-based trade association representing nearly 270 Certified Development Companies (CDCs) in all 50 states.