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Senate moves closer to allowing GI Bill startups

Senate moves closer to allowing GI Bill startups
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A Senate panel this week advanced legislation that would allow veterans to use their GI Bill benefits to start small businesses. 

The Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee unanimously passed the bill, dubbed the Veterans Entrepreneurial Transition (VET) Act of 2015 out of committee on Wednesday. 

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The bill, introduced by Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), would create a three-year pilot program that would allow up to 250 veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits who apply to the program to start a new business or purchase an existing business or franchise.

Currently, GI Bill benefits can only be used for attending school.

“Veterans in Kansas, as well as across the country, face challenges when they separate from the military and transition into civilian life,” Moran said in a statement. 

“After serving our nation, many veterans want to continue their service by giving back to their communities as small business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s common sense to give them more flexibility and choice in their benefits to achieve their goals."

The legislation still faces a long road, however, because it would still have to be approved by the full Senate, introduced and passed in the House, and signed by President Obama before becoming law.

But the action by the committee could put the measure in play for floor action, particularly if it can retain bipartisan support.

The pilot program that would be established under the bill includes a thorough application process and requires participating in an approved entrepreneurial training program.

It would be overseen by the head of the Small Business Administration in consultation with the agency's Advisory Committee on Veterans Business Affairs and the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The bill is endorsed by veterans organizations including the American Legion, the National Guard Association of the United States and the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Non-profit 1 Vet At A Time CEO and retired Marine Lynn Lowder, who was instrumental in pushing the legislation forward, said in a statement, "Our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are hard-wired for success in the business world and the VET Act will provide the capital they need to start their own businesses.”

According to a statement from Moran's office, nearly 550 service members transition from military to civilian life each day, and an estimated 1 million will settle into civilian life within the next three to five years.  

The statement said only half of eligible veterans use their GI Bill benefits to go to college or pursue further training, and only 48 percent actually complete their program of study.  

“Our commitment to the brave men and women who serve our nation doesn’t end when they return from war," Tester said.

“This bill will help veterans transition from the armed services to the private sector so they can succeed on Main Street."