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Boston Herald - Let's Mean Business on Vets Aid

Op-Ed

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Boston Herald - Let's Mean Business on Vets Aid

By John Kerry

When Army National Guardsman Dave Krasner returned to Boston from Iraq in 2005, he did everything right. He applied to the federal government for help keeping his consulting business afloat despite having lost clients and income while he was risking life and limb overseas.

Despite his service, Krasner was denied a small business loan. His credit took a hit due to a smaller military paycheck. After nearly two years of fighting to keep his business open, he closed it and moved to Louisiana where he's making a living but no longer living the American dream of owning his own business.

That's not how it's supposed to be. After our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters put their lives on hold to serve their country and risk their lives for our national security, the least we can do is work to ensure their well being and economic security.

The Bush administration has not done nearly enough to provide a safety net for veterans and reservists who own a small business or are self-employed. What's sorely lacking is a comprehensive, coordinated effort by federal agencies to help veterans and reservists get the business counseling, training and financial assistance they need to ensure their businesses are a success when they return.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed legislation I wrote with Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) that will not only help reservists keep their businesses afloat while they're deployed, but also expand business opportunities for them in the future. Specifically, our bill creates national transition teams that would provide managerial, financial, planning and technical resources through a network of existing centers such as the UMass-Boston Small Business Development Center, the Northeast Veterans Business Resource Center and the Center for Women and Enterprise.

We establish a governmental task force with representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Labor and the General Services Administration to focus on coordinating all federal resources available for veterans and reservists.

And we also expand access to capital. We improve the Military Reservist Economic Injury Disaster Loans - a program I created back in 1999, but which the administration has failed to promote to reservists. Our bill gives reservists more time to apply, increases the size of the loans they can receive, allows soldiers to have loans approved before they deploy and demands that agencies develop an aggressive outreach plan.

Merely offering these small business benefits does no good if vets aren't aware of them - and based on a January hearing, they aren't.

Mark Aldrich, an Iraq veteran who owns a small business in Byfield, grew so frustrated by the lack of information he and his fellow reservists received before he deployed that he started the Veterans Business Group to serve as a clearinghouse of helpful information.

Aldrich's initiative and Krasner's departure from Massachusetts should be a wake-up call for the White House to work with Congress to finally address the glaring needs of our veterans and reservists.

Supporting our troops means more than just providing them with the equipment they need while in harm's way. It also means giving them the tools they need to succeed in business once they come home.


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