For the men and women of the U.S. military, returning to civilian life is often bittersweet.
Veterans who have left the U.S. military in the past 10 years are contending with an unemployment rate of 12.1 percent in October, up from 10.6 percent a year ago and well above the overall U.S. jobless rate of 9 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And more than a million service members are projected to leave the military between 2011 and 2016.
In recent months, President Barack Obama has proposed a number of measures to ease the transition to civilian life, including tax credits for employers hiring veterans and programs for helping veterans become more competitive in the civilian workforce. The federal government also expanded the GI Bill program to include vocational training and other non-degree job-training programs for veterans.
But some vets might be better suited for entrepreneurship. Nearly a quarter of veterans aspire to either start or buy a small business, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration. With this in mind, here are the details on five programs available to veterans to help them get started.
The Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities
In partnership with Syracuse University, the SBA is expanding its free "boot camp" training program to veterans at eight business school campuses across the U.S. Specifically targeted to service-disabled veterans, women, National Guard and Reserve members and their families of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the program is designed to leverage the country's infrastructure of higher education to teach would-be entrepreneurs the skills and resources necessary to start up. Veterans also will learn about small-business management and financing.
To date, more than 320 soldiers with disabilities have graduated from the program and more than 150 businesses have been launched by graduates. Going forward, funding provided by health insurer Humana will help the initiative continue its expansion to additional universities across the U.S.
At present, participating campuses include: Syracuse University, Cornell University, E.J. Ourso College of Business at Louisiana State University, the University of Connecticut School of Business, Mays Business School at Texas A&M, UCLA Anderson School of Management, Florida State University's College of Business, and the Krannert School of Management at Purdue University.
Related: Why One Investor is Banking on Vets
Operation Endure and Grow
Aimed at National Guard and Reserve members, Operation Endure and Grow gives them, their families and business partners access to online training courses focused on the fundamentals of launching or growing a small business. This program offered by the Whitman School of Management in cooperation with the SBA offers service personnel courses on crafting a business or nonprofit plan. In addition, they'll receive ideas for presenting to investors, lenders or other financial backers.
Veteran Fast Launch Initiative
Veterans can access training to become entrepreneurs through the Veterans Fast Launch program, which SCORE (formerly the Service Corps of Retired Executives), launched in partnership such organizations and companies as American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and Hewlett-Packard. The program offers free software, mentoring and training to veterans, active-duty personnel and their families. Discounts on services like getting incorporated are also available to participants, as are scholarships to attend SCORE's Simple Steps for Starting Your Business workshops at 360 SCORE chapters across the U.S.
Veterans as Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship
The SBA along with the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University this year launched a program aimed at helping female veterans launch businesses or grow existing firms. The program called Veterans as Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship, or V-WISE, is available in seven U.S. cities and accepts 200 veterans per city.
After a 15-day online introduction to business that focuses on building entrepreneurship skills, participants are asked to attend one of several three-day conferences held at various times and places across the U.S. through 2013. At the event, would-be and current female veteran entrepreneurs -- as well as transitioning active-duty personnel -- can take courses on topics from human resources and marketing to finance and business planning. The registration fee is $75 and participants are required to pay for their own travel, but their hotel rooms are paid for by the SBA.
Patriot Express Pilot Loan
For those who need funding, the SBA supports small-business lending, including a dedicated lending program for veteran entrepreneurs. The SBA backed more than 4,300 loans totaling $1.5 billion in its flagship 7(a) and 504 programs to lending to veterans in 2011. Since 2007, the Patriot Express pilot loan initiative, which boasts faster turnaround times than other SBA programs, has guaranteed loans of more than $667 million to nearly 8,100 veterans, reservists and their spouses to start or expand a small business. In its 2011 fiscal year, the SBA authorized more than 1,560 loans totaling $142 million. The program has been extended through 2013.
For information about other programs that aren't listed above, head to the SBA's veterans site. Veterans can also find help at any of the SBA's 68 district offices, 15 Veterans Business Outreach Centers, more than 1,000 Small Business Development Centers, 110 Women's Business Centers and the many SCORE volunteers.