Congressman Kerry Bentivolio

Representing the 11th District of Michigan

Welcome veterans home with business loans

Apr 2, 2013

As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been winding down, we have welcomed roughly 100,000 veterans back to our communities. Unfortunately, these brave men and women are returning to a stagnant economy. An American hero who participated in the raid against Osama bin Laden recently talked about the difficulties many soldiers face as they transition back to ordinary life. With few job prospects and no income after his retirement from service, he told Esquire magazine, "I still have the same bills I had in the Navy. I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids, and work from there. I'd like to take the things I learned and help other people in any way I can."

The financial difficulties of rejoining civilian life can take a toll on our veterans after they are no longer members of the armed forces. In conversations with constituents, I have heard that some of our Michigan veterans came back to America only to learn that their home was being foreclosed. Although it is illegal to do so, some foreclosure lawyers manipulated loopholes in order to start the process early, turning active-duty soldiers out of their homes. That is wrong.

While researching this matter, I discovered three disturbing statistics:

More than 67,000 homeless veterans were counted on a given January night in America last year. More than 4 in 10 homeless veterans were found unsheltered.

Almost half of homeless veterans were African-American in 2008, despite the fact that only 11 percent of veterans overall are African-American.

1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal living conditions in overcrowded or substandard housing.

The significant source of this problem is a lack of jobs for those returning home after serving abroad. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that more than half of all veterans were unsure of how to network professionally. Nearly three in four felt unprepared to negotiate salary and benefits. Our youngest soldiers have been the hardest hit: 30.2 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 who served in the military were unemployed, according to an unpublished 2011 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Having more veteran-owned businesses will help these former members of our military transition back into civilian life.

We can solve this problem by modifying a familiar policy that is already in place. Many veterans have already paid for their education and have the skills necessary to start a business. For these men and women, the GI Bill does not help them transition back into our economy. We should allow the money designated for tuition to cover the interest on loans taken out by veterans who want to start a small business.

This process would take the principles of the GI Bill and apply them to lending institutions. Whereas the Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for tuition and living expenses only after a veteran has been accepted into an accredited school, my idea would only allow the interest on small business loans to be paid after the acceptance of their business loan application. The bank and former soldier would still be liable for the principal of the loan.

This serves as a protection against abuse. Just as there are caps regarding how long and how much money the GI Bill will cover for tuition, the same limits would be placed on the business loan program.

Finally, if you are an active member of the military going through a foreclosure, please contact Carl Paulus at my congressional office at 202-225-8171. We will do everything we can to remedy the situation.

U.S. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Milford, represents Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. He is a veteran of the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

From The Detroit News: