February 16, 2017, By Michael Macari – Much has been written about America’s love affair with its veterans. We salute them in airports, enthusiastically sing the National Anthem with them at sporting events, pick up their lunch checks, and “thank them for their service” when in their presence (which, incidentally, most vets would say they disfavor). They are a different breed of citizen; defenders of our freedom; selfless, who’d rather be asked how their families are doing, than thanked for serving.
But we can thank them, in real and tangible ways. And one personal and impactful way is by making greater strides to keep them fully aware of certain benefits that are theirs and theirs alone- the VA Home Loan Program.
The VA Home Loan program is an underutilized home ownership benefit available to them from the Department of Veterans Affairs. In this program, our veterans -both during or following their service- establish a home for their families; a place to build, to live, to dream.
The VA Home Loan Program is not a new benefit. The VA program was created just days following D-Day, with the signing of the GI Bill by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on June 22, 1944. This law provided veterans with federally guaranteed home loans- with no down payment, no mortgage insurance and a 100% loan-to-value on purchases and refinancing.
So, why is it so many veterans are unaware of this program, designed to thank them, enable them, for their service to America?
The reasons are many-fold according to John McDade, Director of Government Lending for iServe Residential Lending, a nationwide home mortgage lender, and himself a veteran. McDade has originated over 5,000 VA home loans in a mortgage career spanning over 40 years.
“Most veterans in or exiting their time of service do not understand the programs available to them”, states McDade. “The program is not sold to them on their exit. One main issue has been information. There is so much information provided about other things in life that the information they need about housing and home ownership benefits gets lost”.
Only an estimated 9% of U.S. Veterans and qualified military personnel have used their home loan benefits, according to www.benefits.va.gov. This number is on the rise. A generation ago, only 4% of eligible vets took advantage of these benefits. But it is still a fraction of what can be and needs to be. Homeownership provides stability, equity and a place veterans especially can enhance their quality of lives in.
To remedy this, McDade and others have begun to educate the realtor community on VA Home Loans, and the VA Home Lending process. McDade and counterparts in the mortgage industry regularly hold realtor seminars around the country designed to break down the information barriers within the realtor community. In turn, realtors become less hindered by the lack of information such as financing options, pre-qualification documents (all veterans generally qualify), and what types of home can be financed.
The goal is to get realtors to be in a position to assist the veteran in getting the benefits he or she deserves. In general, McDade reports, once a realtor has attended a VA Lending seminar, they become an advocate for the program. They, in turn, tell other realtors about the program, resulting in a continuing rise of financing options that can make the difference for the veteran.
Another reason veterans are unaware of these benefits is the misperception in the home mortgage financing industry that VA Home Loans are cumbersome, bureaucratic, time-consuming to achieve. “The mortgage industry as a whole has done a poor job of providing information on these financing options to vets’ McDade adds. McDade is working to change that.
This lender sees the work of proselytizing veterans’ benefits as a life-long commitment to the veteran. “Veterans also need to be aware that these benefits do not end for them with the purchase of their home”, McDade concludes. “Many veterans continue to access Veterans Home Loan benefits in refinancing homes to access built-up equity, payoff or consolidate debt, make home improvements, and even fund their child’s education”.
Unmarried surviving spouses of veterans who died in service or from a service-connected disability may also access these benefits throughout their lives.
“John is a true believer in the value that the VA Home Loan Program brings to our nation’s veterans”, states Keith Pedigo, retired senior executive of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and former National Director of the VA Home Loan Program. “I came to appreciate John’s impressive grasp of the complexities of the VA program. I can’t imagine a better advocate for this 70-year-old home loan program for our veterans than John”.