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From Battlefield to the Business World -- Veterans Make It on Their Own

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- More than 1 million veterans are expected to transition out of military service by 2015, according to the International Franchise Association. And new research finds that the rate of entrepreneurism among returning military soldiers is falling.

According to the Kaufmann Foundation , until three years ago, U.S. veterans generally started companies at higher rates than non-veterans did. In 1996, veterans represented 12.3% of all new entrepreneurs. In contrast, veterans comprised just 6% of new entrepreneurs in 2011, according a report released last week by the research organization.

Kauffman attributes the declining numbers to several factors.

For one, there is an increasing amount of non-veterans who are becoming entrepreneurs as a result of the financial crisis, therefore skewing the numbers.

Additionally, large numbers of veterans are leaving the workforce for retirement. That means younger veterans have less support from "within their own community of veterans as they consider their own entrepreneurial ventures" and "fewer networking opportunities, mentors and funders among the older generations of vets," says Dane Stangler, director of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation.

Yet a host of organizations, financial assistance websites and the government are looking to encourage more veterans to start a business.

Probably the best place for military vets to start for small-business assistance is with the Small Business Administration.

Through the SBA's Office of Veterans Business Development , veteran-owned small businesses can get financing help, business training and mentoring and assistance with federal procurement programs.

The agency is stepping up its efforts. This year, the SBA partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense to develop a national entrepreneurship training program. Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup was piloted with all four military branches in summer and fall 2012 and will be rolled out next year.

The SBA already partners with Syracuse University through its the Entrepreneurship Boot Camp for Veterans with Disabilities program. Now in its fourth year, the program also provides training on how disabled vets can start and grow a small business.

Since 2009, the first year SBA partnered with Syracuse University, 434 service-disabled veterans have participated in the program. About seven other universities participate in the program.

In terms of capital access, the SBA has backed more than 3,200 loans worth $2.1 billion to support veteran-owned small businesses through its flagship 7(a) loan programs and 504 loan programs. That includes the SBA's Patriot Express loans, which offer one of SBA's fastest turnaround times for approvals on loans up to $500,000 to small businesses owned by veterans, reservists and their spouses.

Patriot Express loans can be used for most business purposes, including startup, expansion, equipment purchases, working capital, inventory or business-occupied real-estate purchases, the SBA says.