An ambitious new project is hoping to turn veterans into entrepreneurs using the power of ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft.
Called G.I. Driver, the program is spearheaded by Rich Bodmer, who served in the United States Navy for four years. In the most basic sense, G.I. Driver will help veterans establish themselves as drivers, generating instant income. The project, which is still in its planning stages, will launch in 2016.
"Our goal is to be able to hand a veteran everything they need," Bodmer told The Huffington Post in a phone interview. "Everything from fuel and a car to insurance, a cell phone and cell phone service. We'll look to create partnerships with companies who can help those efforts."
Uber and Lyft offer a unique opportunity to troops returning home. While it's relatively easy to get started as a driver, the hours are flexible and you're meeting people constantly.
Bodmer -- who drove an Uber for 14 weeks to evaluate the company's potential for veterans -- told HuffPost that simple human interaction can be huge for those who need help re-adjusting to American society.
"Nine out of 10 people do the same thing: They get in the back of the car and the first thing they say is 'how long have you been driving for Uber?' And immediately the conversation is struck," Bodmer explained. "Suddenly, 15 people get in the car a day and you've had 12 good conversations with people and you're back into a community that a lot of these guys never get back into."
Veterans face a slew of challenges when they return home -- not the least of which is unemployment. While jobless rates are improving for certain veteran demographics, they're getting worse for others. Recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that while employment is improving for veterans who have served since 9/11, the numbers are actually getting worse for those who served in active duty since 1990. In both cases, the unemployment rate is higher for women.
If you've ever taken an Uber, you can probably attest that the service appeals to drivers young and old, no matter their gender. Bodmer also says he hopes G.I. Driver will be able to provide augmented vehicles to assist veterans with physical disabilities.
It's a huge undertaking, but he feels confident it'll happen thanks to his group's corporate connections.
While the website hasn't officially launched yet, Bodmer encourages interested parties to check gidriver.org in the coming days. His plan is to select 10 veterans for a "beta test" after Jan. 1. The program launches in earnest July 4.
As for skeptics who think Uber and Lyft aren't exactly long-term career prospects -- there's another element to Bodmer's plan. In addition to putting veterans behind the wheel, he hopes that G.I. Driver can help them establish companies of their own, in addition to retirement funds. The idea is that while veterans might start as Uber and Lyft workers, they can also develop long-term prospects that provide a safety net.
"I've always been an entrepreneur. To me, you may start one business but it may evolve into something else," Bodmer told HuffPost. "Just because we help these veterans get a kickstart into their careers, that doesn't mean it can't grow into something else."