This week, as we turn our attention to honoring our nation’s veterans, two statistics - among many specific to our armed forces - stand out: Nearly 550 veterans transition out of the military and into civilian life every day, and one million will transition in the next three to five years. More importantly, a common reality for all of these veterans is that when their service ends, they will need jobs.

On the flip-side, the information technology industry is the United States’ fastest growing job sector. According to the White House, there are nearly a half a million unfilled jobs in tech today, so, it only seems logical that many veterans would flock to Silicon Valley and other tech hubs around the country to begin the next chapter in their careers. As it turns out, they don’t - ​at least not as many as one would think - and the gap that prevents them from doing so should open the collective eyes of policymakers in Washington.


Following their military service, veterans looking to enter the technology industry often face significant challenges, not least of all because federal funding guidelines often do not permit education benefits to cover many non-traditional, skill-based education programs that make transitioning to the industry a viable option. At the same time, military veterans are uniquely positioned for roles in the tech industry. Trained as leaders and decision makers in complex situations, many veterans have the fundamentals to quickly learn or adapt problem-solving skills as an entrepreneur launching a startup or an engineer at a tech company.

It is more than just tech jobs, too. Federal funding guidelines also make it hard for veterans to use the benefits they have earned through their service towards building a business. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 25 percent of active duty service members report that they would like to one day start their own company, but restrictions around the use of GI benefits preclude them from putting that money toward a startup or unaccredited alternative entrepreneurial education programs that help bring their ideas to reality. 

Veterans should be able to use their GI benefits toward the career they want - not only because we owe them this chance, but because startup companies account for net new job growth in the United States, which is to say, we need more founders to create more businesses. 

Watching the successful, entrepreneurial careers of veterans who have entered the technology sector only demonstrates the need to bridge this critical gap. After five years on active duty with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, Isaac Elias left the U.S. Army in 2009. As he transitioned out of the military, he found that a large portion of existing career development resources were available through formal partnerships with traditional industry, like manufacturing or logistics - not tech. He used his GI benefits to attend and graduate from college with a business degree in just three years, and despite learning to code on his own, Isaac had difficulty landing a job in the tech industry without formal training on his resume. Taking a risk, Isaac enrolled in a program through General Assembly (GA). After completion, he was hired as a full-time software engineer at a startup and has gone on to hold several positions within the field but not before he accumulated nearly $25,000 in debt paying for his program and his family’s expenses while he was not able to work.

Aaron Saari is another example. A 2007 West Point graduate, Aaron began studying the career paths of successful entrepreneurs even before he was out of the military and was attracted to the merit-based culture of technology entrepreneurship. To pursue a career change from an offer to a tech and marketing entrepreneur, Aaron considered using his GI benefits to earn an MBA, but didn’t want to spend two valuable years sitting in a classroom for another degree. And, to him, other resources available to him seemed outdated or not relevant. With no suitable options within reach, Aaron charted a path on his own, utilizing several online resources covering the latest trends in digital marketing and data analysis. Today, he runs Base on Fire, a growth and marketing consultancy for small businesses.

To bridge the gap and open doors to veterans once their service ends, policymakers must adapt to a changing economy. Adjusting the GI Bill for a 21st century economy is a first step. Veterans should be able to use their benefits to support the kind of opportunities that will best prepare them for today’s careers. 

In addition, GI benefits today primarily emphasize education to attend university programs. However, not all veterans demand nor need a secondary degree -​ for many, employment and personal goals are better achieved by launching a startup or traditional small business. The Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition Act of 2015 (VETS Act), currently in Congress, seeks to change this by setting up a pilot program to evaluate and fund proposals by veteran entrepreneurs. The pilot would even allow veterans to apply as a group and pool their benefits.

We must also give veterans a running start before they exit the military to make them competitive candidates for tech industry jobs. The Transition Assistance Program is a one-size-fits-all program that still leaves a lot of guesswork for newly transitioned veterans trying to get into the tech industry. We should should provide transitioning service members with more resources to know about opportunities in the tech industry, training they need to get these jobs and provide them with additional training or internships before they leave the military. 

The real-life training, skills, and discipline these men and women attain while in service are unlike any other, and collectively, veterans represent a pool of talent that is almost immeasurable. However, for veterans seeking to pursue a career in the tech industry, some roadblocks stand in the way, and these simple fixes would clear a path and create nearly limitless opportunities for them. 

Samuels is executive director and board president of Engine Advocacy.