In just 20 months, a Small Business Administration lending program for veterans has facilitated $250 million in loan guarantees.

The program, SBA Patriot Express, offers larger loans—up to half a million dollars—than the ordinary SBA program, which caps loan amounts at $300,000. The application process is also more streamlined. After loans are submitted by a partner bank, the SBA approves most applications in less than a day.

"Who would loan me $470,000?" asked former Navy helicopter technician Felix Otoso-Colon., 59. "That was a godsend for me, really."

Otoso-Colon moved to Puerto Rico after retiring from the Navy and had the opportunity to buy a local bakery in Humacao. Otoso-Colon learned about the Patriot Express program online.

He worked at the bakery for two weeks without pay and decided he wanted to buy the business. Then local lender Banco Popular worked with the SBA to approve his loan. The deal was completed in May 2008.

"Looking at the books of the prior owner, I'm making about three times his revenue," said Otoso-Colon. He has diversified the bakery's business since taking over: "It's not only a bakery, it's a cafeteria and a mini-mart and soon to be a pizzeria."

The mainstays of the business, though, are Puerto Rican favorites "pan sobao" (sweet bread) and "pan de agua" (water bread). Otoso-Colon is using some of his profits to sponsor a local baseball team and other charities.

In addition to veterans, the program offers loans to reservists, National Guard members, military spouses, and widowed spouses of service members. The Patriot Express program is available throughout the continental United States, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The Patriot Express program loans are offered at the lowest rates the SBA provides, usually between 2.25 percent and 4.75 percent over the prime interest rate.

Loans are available through local banks, but veterans can also visit Veterans Business Outreach Centers, which have offices in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Sacramento. Information can also be found at