Do You Qualify for a Refinance?

A popular refinance option has been the Home Affordable Refinance Program (or HARP 2.0). But hold on a second! HARP has its limitations. It’s most notable limitation is that it is a program available only to homeowners whose loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

So, your VA mortgage loan is not eligible for a HARP refinance. Did you know that those with a VA loan should strongly consider a VA streamline refinance instead? A VA streamline loan is better than the HARP program in several ways:

  • It does not require an appraisal.
  • It does not require private mortgage insurance (PMI). (This fact alone can save you a hundred dollars a month and more on your mortgage payment.)
  • It does not require income or asset documentation.
  • It has more lenient qualification standards.

Five Reasons to Refinance

Here are 5 strong reasons why a VA streamline refinance could really benefit you financially:

  1. Refinance to lower your interest rate. I have made the point before, interest rates are near a record low. And as I write this, 30-year mortgage rates are hovering above 3 percent and 15 year loans can be secured for an even lower rate. If your home is now financed at a higher interest rate, it may be a great time for you to consider refinancing. You could literally save tens of thousands of dollars just by taking the time to fill out the necessary paperwork and gather the needed documents.  Take advantage of expert help and talk to your VA mortgage loan expert.
  2. Refinance to shorten the term of your loan. If you have a 30-year mortgage, now may be a great time to consider refinancing. With record low interest rates, that 15-year mortgage may not be much more expensive than the 30-year loan payment. An experienced veteran loan expert can tell you in just minutes if this kind of a refinance makes sense. (When I refinanced our home from a 30-year mortgage at about 6 percent to a 15-year mortgage at 3.625 percent, the payment only increased by about $100.)
  3. Refinance to lower your payment. Refinancing to a lower VA interest rate could mean drastically reducing your payment and saving tens of thousands of dollars in interest. Lowering your mortgage payment is a great strategy that can free up hundreds of dollars per month for investing or saving. Although refinancing to lower your payment could increase the term of your loan, it could make sense in your particular situation.
  4. Refinance to cash out home equity. A VA cash out loan could be a great financial move in some circumstances. For instance, it may make sense to cash out some of your home equity in order to buy an investment property or start a business. It mostly depends on what you are trying to achieve and if you are someone who can manage your debts responsibly.
  5. Refinance from an ARM to a fixed rate loan. If you currently have an adjustable-rate mortgage, now may be the perfect time to refinance into a fixed-rate loan. Interest rates are low now, and projected to remain low, but they won’t remain this low forever. Locking into a low fixed rate can protect you from rising interest rates in coming years. Additionally, a fixed payment is easier to plan and budget for.

Can Refinancing Help You with Your Financial Goals?

Make a quick review of your financial goals What are you planning for your financial future?

  • Do you want to lower your monthly mortgage payment?
  • Do you want extra cash flow for savings or investment?
  • Do you want to pay off your mortgage and get out of debt faster?

This is a rare moment in the history of home mortgage rates; your’s is a rare opportunity with VA interest rates a remarkable value.  With some thorough research and planning, refinancing your mortgage could turn out to be the best thing for your family and for your pocketbook.

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Time for a VA Streamline Refinance?

VA loans are a special loan program designed specifically for veterans, issued by approved lenders, and guaranteed by the federal government. The VA Streamline Refinance is the most common loan type within the VA loan umbrella, and is officially known as an Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL).

VA loan closing costs can be rolled into the cost of the loan, allowing veterans to refinance with no out-of-pocket expenses. Sometimes it is also possible for the lender to take the brunt of the cost in exchange for a higher interest rate on your loan.

The Time is Right!

VA streamline loans no longer need a home appraisal or 620 FICO scores! Perhaps you have tried and failed to get a VA streamline in the past. Don’t let that derail your efforts today—this is a different financial landscape than even a year ago. Apply again now.

To qualify for a VA Streamline loan, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be current on your mortgage with no more than one 30-day late payment within the past year.
  • Your new monthly payment for the IRRRL must also be lower than the previous loan’s monthly payment. (This condition does not apply is if you refinance an ARM to a fixed rate mortgage.)
  • You must not receive any cash from the IRRRL.
  • You must certify that you previously occupied the property.
  • You must have previously used your VA Loan eligibility on the property you intend to refinance. (You may see this referred to as a VA to VA refinance.)

Interest rates are still in a range that should be considered “the chance of a lifetime.” That is not just exaggerated talk. Historically, VA interest rates are in a range that should motivate every veteran to look more closely into a VA mortgage loan or a refinance.

Fixed interest rates are still very attractive for long-term loans. But before you limit your thinking, you should also consider the amount of time you plan on being in your home. If you’re only going to be in your home for a few more years, it may make sense not to refinance out of your ARM. If you’re going to be in your home less than seven years, it might be a smart move to refinance to an ARM loan.

A drop of just one half to three quarters of a percentage point in interest can lower your monthly payment. If you don’t refinance, you may be paying too much every month for your loan, and that’s never a good financial move. There are a couple of different ways you can lower your monthly mortgage payment.

  • You can simply refinance to a lower interest rate. A lower rate generally means a lower monthly payment.
  • You can change the term of your mortgage. For instance, if you have a 15-year mortgage, you can lengthen the term to 30 years. Since the balance of your mortgage is spread out over a longer period of time, your payment is lower. However, if you have a 30-year mortgage and one of your financial goals is long-term savings, you may want to consider shortening your term to 20 or even 15 years. Your payment will be higher, but you will pay much less in interest over the life of the loan, saving you thousands of dollars in the long run.

Remember, the VA streamline refinance loan (IRRL) lowers your interest rate by refinancing your existing VA home loan. By obtaining a lower interest rate, your monthly mortgage payment should decrease. Now that’s some good financial news. Act on it!

Get Started With Your VA Loan Today

Historically Never a Better Time for a VA Home Loan

Let me take you back 60 years—that would have been 1963. In 1963 interest rates for a 30-year fixed home loan dropped below 6 percent. For approximately 40 years—between 1965 and 2005—interest rates stayed above that 6 percent mark, often several points above that mark.

There is no way to know if history will repeat itself, but it is a fair question to ask: if we were to go another 40 years before interest rates returned to the present historic lows, where would YOU be and would you be in a better position to take advantage of that opportunity?

There is no time like the present!

You have many different loan options right now for a VA home mortgage. You can get a fixed loan, an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM), or a refinance—all at historic lows. Just how good is the current VA interest rate? As I said earlier: you may not have a better opportunity for a veteran mortgage loan in your lifetime.

The timing is absolutely wonderful for a VA loan. I’d like to offer some advice, because almost everyone needs a lender to get into a home and everything in the lending industry is about risk assessment.

There are 3 key elements to any mortgage transaction.

  • Credit. Your credit score and history are the driving factor in this market. You can find out more about your credit (and even download a free credit report) at any of the “Big Three” credit bureaus’ websites:
    • Experian
    • Equifax
    • TransUnion
  • Debt to Income (DTI). This ratio determines how much of a payment you can afford under lending guidelines. The baseline for DTI is usually around 41%. (Calculate the money you spend on house maintenance, tax, insurance premiums, car loans, credit card bills, educational loans, etc. Then, calculate the amount you earn every month. Finally, calculate your debt-to-income ratio by dividing the first number by the second number.)
  • Loan to Value (LTV). This ratio determines how much you borrow against the value of the property. VA loan requirements allow for LTV & CLTV on purchases and IRRRL’s to 100%. The LTV & CLTV on cash-out refinances are allowed up to 90% of appraised value.

Additional Guidelines

A VA mortgage loan requires a certificate of eligibility (COE).  Getting help to apply for your COE (and get your other questions answered) is really pretty simple.

  • Credit Score. The VA insures VA loans and does not require a minimum FICO score. All lenders have their own requirements in addition to those of the VA. Most lenders today require the minimum mid-score in a tri-merge report to be at 620 or better. The credit report must clearly support an applicant’s ability to meet financial obligations in a timely, responsible manner. specializes in working with those below that tri-merge number.
  • Established Trade Lines. VA loan requirements allow for both traditional and alternative credit trade lines. However, most lenders require that you must have at least two lines of credit that you have maintained for at least two years.

Late Payments

VA loan requirements does not allow for more than one debt payments being more than 30 days late if the incidents have occurred within the last 12 months. This includes more than one late payment on a single account. In addition, individual lenders may have restrictions on late payments made in the last 12 months. No mortgage late payments made in the last 12 months are allowed on purchase and refinance of VA loan. And only a 1×30 mortgage late payment is allowed on a VA streamline (IRRRL).


VA loan requirements specify that most collection accounts outstanding must be paid, no matter what their age as long as they are currently delinquent and/or due and payable. Isolated collection accounts do not necessarily have to be paid off as a condition for loan approval. For example: a credit report may show numerous satisfactory accounts and one or two unpaid medical (or other) collections. In such instances, while it would be preferable to have collections paid, it would not necessarily be a requirement for loan approval.


Chapter 7 must be discharged for at least 2 years with no late payments since the date of discharge. Applicants who filed for Chapter 13 and have satisfactorily made at least 12 months of payments, and the Trustee or the Bankruptcy Judge approves of the new credit, the lender may give favorable consideration.


VA loan requirements will not allow for any delinquent federal debt such as student loans or tax liens or other government debt, no matter what their age as long as they are currently delinquent or due.


VA loan requirements state that an applicant may be eligible if there was no loss of security on a foreclosure or a satisfied judgment that was completed more than 12 months prior to the date of the application. However, if there was loss of security due to a foreclosure, the applicant is ineligible for a VA loan within 36 months after foreclosure.

Child Support

VA loan requirements state that child support in arrears must be brought current. If a payment schedule has been established with the Court for the past due amount and a history of satisfactory payments is provided, the applicant will not be required to pay the past due amount in full. Both the payment for the past due child support and the regular court ordered support payment will be included in the applicant’s income to total debt ratio.

If you are paying court ordered child support, it is considered a liability payment (even though it may not show up on your credit report or your pay stubs as wage garnishment); it counts against your debt ratio (DTI). Receiving court ordered child support is considered a source of income.

Down Payment

VA loan requirements for a home purchase do not have a minimum down payment. The VA loan is one of the very few loans that can be financed to 100% with $0 down payment.

If you think about it for a minute, the current lending climate is one of the truly unique opportunities of our times. It won’t take long to contact and get your questions answered as you start the ball rolling toward home ownership.

Get Started With Your VA Loan Today

The Crisis Called Syria

The last several days have been riveting if you have been following the drama surrounding Syria. Here is a synopsis of some of the latest developments:

  • President Obama took his case public, telling America that he would ask Congress to pass a resolve to take limited military action on Syria. This, of itself, is quite ironic—the democratic president becoming a war hawk while various Republican senators have become pacifist doves.
  • The Obama Administration has been working the international diplomatic channels trying to muster support for an attack—all of this to send the Assad regime a clear message that it cannot use chemical weapons against its own. That Aug. 21 attack killed an estimated 1400 people, many of them women and children. There have been other reported smaller incidents of Assad using chemical weapons against his own citizens.
  • Senator McCain, in a town hall meeting in Arizona, encountered fierce opposition to any sort of military action in Syria. This is one of many surprising events—whether in America or in Europe—in which traditional lines of support appear to be smeared.
  • Newt Gingrich has gone public stating that any attack on Syria is an act of war on a sovereign nation. He is opposed to any military action.
  • If that isn’t enough irony, the normally docile French are more willing than the British or the Germans to launch missile strikes on Syria. Citizens of all European countries are decidedly against military action in Syria. In other words, it appears the world is willing to let what happens in Syria just go on.

Syrian refugees have put tremendous pressure on neighboring countries. In fact, Lebanon is all but overwhelmed with the refugee crises. It remains to be seen how Turkey, Jordan, Iran, and other neighboring countries will deal with the growing humanitarian crisis. Displaced Syrians exert tremendous pressure on the region and the problem is sure to worsen in the months ahead.

Opposition at the G20 Summit

The world is divided on what to do about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. U.S. President Barack Obama faced growing pressure from Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other world leaders at the G20 summit in Russia. The most vocal adversaries of any military action against Syria are (no surprise here) also Syria’s staunchest allies: China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. The G20 summit is meant to address the world economy and the chief argument against an American or joint-nation attach is that it would hurt the global economy and push up oil prices.

Political analysts are saying the first round at the summit went to Putin, as China, the European Union, the BRICS emerging economies, and even Pope Francis (by letter) all warned against military intervention in Syria without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

Obama blames forces loyal to Syrian President Assad for the poison gas attack in the Damascus suburbs that killed up to 1,400 people. Moscow says Obama has not proven that claim and says rebel forces may have carried it out.

Senator McCain refuted Putin’s claim, saying that in due time “irrefutable evidence” would be forthcoming and the whole world would see that Assad regime was, without question, responsible for the atrocities committed by a nation against its own citizens.

Some of Syria’s staunchest friends blasted what they call the “arrogance” of U.S.-led efforts to strike the war-torn nation and said those who do will pay a steep price.

It raises the question of whether Syria would have the capability to threaten any US or other participating nation assets in the region. Syria has at least 20 P-800 Oniks/Yakhont anti-ship missiles, which could pose a threat to any US ships. But the missile has a range of only 62 to 186 miles (100 to 300 kilometers), depending upon its flight profile.

Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had some of the harshest criticism for the United States and President Obama on Thursday. His assertion was that the US has no right to make “humanitarian claims (given) their track record” in Iraq, Afghanistan and at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Syrian problem is one that has polarized world opinion. Meanwhile, the tragedy continues to mount and worsen day by agonizing day. If the world does nothing, what will it mean to the way Assad continues with his side of the war? If the world does anything, what will it be and how will that decision play out in a world arena?

Expect more heartache and more controversy while the crisis that is Syria deepens by the hour. Nations and citizens of nations want to keep neutrality. I can’t imagine how they world can watch and wait and not expect the Middle East to deteriorate around this Syrian situation.

In this nation we continue to debate what to do about Syria. With all that is happening in the world, it does not yet appear certain what we will decide to do. I think of tiny Israel in all of this. Israel is directly affected by the Syrian civil war and its implications. Israel has already responded with military action when it felt to act.

Israel is shaped by a world-view that requires it know at all times what it must do and how it must act. I think how the rest of the world must covet this simple ability to act.

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Update on TRICARE for Veterans

Pressure to reduce military spending continues to trickle through military benefits programs such as TRICARE. As a recent example, retirees eligible for TRICARE for Life (TFL) will face higher outpatient costs at VA hospitals and clinics starting Oct. 1 for healthcare not related to time in service.

A recent audit of TFL payouts found that the government was essentially covering all health costs, even when that care was unrelated to service time causes—and outside the language of TLC policy coverage. Michael O’Bar, deputy chief of TRICARE policy and operations recently announced that TRICARE policy regarding TFL retirees and VA health care will “get back into sync” with statutory requirements

The law that established TRICARE for Life as a prized supplement to Medicare for retirees 65 and older directs TRICARE to cover the cost of TFL claims only after Medicare has paid its share, followed by any other health insurance that retirees might have to serve as second payer.

Some TRICARE Details

  • TRICARE Prime. The current family enrollment fee of $539 for working-age retirees (under age 65) would increase next year to equal 2.95 percent of the individual’s gross retired pay.  But for 2014 the fee would be subject to an annual minimum, or floor, of $548 and a ceiling of $750 ($900 for flag officers).  The fee would be raised to 3.3 percent of gross retired pay in 2015 with a floor of $558 and ceiling of $900 ($1200 for flag); 3.65 percent in 2016 with floor of $569 and ceiling of $1050 ($1500 for flag); and so on until reaching 4 percent of gross retired pay in 2018 with a floor of $594 and ceiling of $1226 ($1840 for flag). Fees for single coverage would be half these amounts.
  • TRICARE Standard/Extra. For the first time, users of these options would face an annual enrollment fee, starting at $70 for single coverage or $140 for family, and rising each year until reaching $125 (individual) and $250 (family) in 2018.  Also, the current annual deductible of $150 (individual) and $300 (family) would gradually increase, starting in 2014 and until it reached $290 (individual) and $580 (family) in 2018.
  • TRICARE for Life. Beneficiaries 65 and older can use TRICARE for Life as a golden supplement to Medicare. Officials said a comparable individual policy in 2009 would cost $2100 in the private sector.  So, they reason, military elderly should at least pay a small enrollment fee. But these changes would be grandfathered to impact only retirees who become TFL beneficiaries after enactment.
    The fee would equal one half of one percentage point of gross retired pay in 2014; one percent in 2015; 1.5 percent in 2016, and two percent in 2017 and in 2018.  But the fees would have ceilings: no more $150 a year in 2014; no more than $300 in 2015, $450 in 2016, $600 in 2017 and no more than $618 in 2018.  Flag officers would face higher ceilings though not substantial. After 2017, these fees would be adjusted by the percentage of retiree COLAs.
  • Pharmacy Fees. The administration wants to follow last year’s increases in pharmacy co-pays with additional increases phased in to encourage greater use of mail order and generic drugs.
  • Catastrophic Cap. The current cap on total out-of-pocket costs TRICARE costs of $3000 a year would be raised for retirees in two ways: by excluding any TRICARE enrollment fees from counting toward the cap; and by raising the cap annually by the percentage of retiree COLA.

Have you checked out the VA eBenefits website? There is some really good information there on TRICARE and other medical benefits for veterans.

Also in this year’s plan survivors of members who die on active duty and persons medically retired from service would be exempt from any fee increases. The department no longer is asking that TRICARE fees be adjusted annually based on medical inflation.

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US Poised for Missile Attack on Syria

There has been a lot of talk about President Obama’s “red line” comment concerning the Syrian government using chemical weapons against its civilians. CBS is now reporting it likely that that President Obama will bomb Syria sometime in the coming weeks, conditional on a coalition mandate. US military sources are publicly confirming there is little doubt a poison gas attack occurred in the Damascus suburbs. That attack, just days ago, left hundreds dead.

What started as a Syrian uprising in 2011 evolved into a full-fledged civil war. And, as the world has watched now for over two years, a lightly armed rebel force has been going against the full military might of the Assad regime. To date there have been over 100,000 civilian deaths and the frightening wholesale destruction of cities. A recent UN report says that over two million Syrians have fled that country, with at least half of them being children.

The international community has struggled to arrive at a unified response to the conflict in Syria. But these new additional reports of chemical weapons could, if confirmed, cement the international resolve to act. Last year President Barack Obama said that the use of chemical weapons was a “red line” that, if crossed, the US would not ignore.

If the president were to order an attack, it would likely be a cruise missile attack from US warships, keeping US troops and airmen out of harm’s way. Such an attack would be a calculated warning designed to convince Assad that he cannot get away with using chemical weapons. In other words, the world is watching and will not allow it to happen.

Here we are now, the last week of August 2013. President Obama met in the White House yesterday with his top civilian and military to discuss options. American warships are in the Mediterranean and additional ships are on the way. The New York Times reported that Obama’s national-security aides are studying the 1999 air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for US action in Syria.

In the Kosovo conflict, ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, an autonomous province of Serbia, were being massacred by Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic. President Bill Clinton, after much reluctance, decided to intervene, but couldn’t get authorization from the U.N. Security Council, where Russia—Serbia’s main ally—was certain to veto any resolution on the use of force. So Clinton turned to NATO to deal with a crisis in the middle of Europe.

The Syrian parallel is obvious. In this case too, an American president, after much reluctance, seems to be considering the use of force but can’t get authorization from the U.N. because Russia and China are certain to veto. There is growing pressure to act, bolstered by evidence gathered by independent physicians’ groups and U.S. intelligence that Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons.

Can Obama count on a multinational alliance? That is uncertain. NATO may be the answer—just as it was in Kosovo. Turkey might be a leading voice for intervention. Turkey is dealing with refugee pressure and its leaders are justifiably concerned by the growing death toll and instability in Syria just across their southern border.

If CBS is right and he Pentagon is making the initial preparations for a cruise missile attack on Syrian government forces, buckle your seat belts, because things could go from where they are to a full regional (if not world) conflict in the blink of an eye.

President Obama clearly does not want to take military action without international support. Responding to CNN questioning, the president said “If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country, without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it. Do we have the coalition to make it work?”

I think we are at a point where we are about to find out what the US is going to do about Syria.


There Is No Time Like the Present

I had a great neighbor, an older gentleman, who always seemed to get things done in record time. While I was still trying to decide what to do, he was already doing. We often talked over the fence and one of his favorite sayings was, “there is no time like the present.

In the spirit of taking wise action now, here are five good reasons why you should take advantage of your VA home mortgage loan entitlement:

  • Reason #1: Veterans, active duty and certain surviving spouses are eligible for VA home loan benefits. Qualified surviving spouses may borrow up to $417,000 (more in high-cost counties) with no money down.  Surviving spouses are exempt from paying the VA funding fee.
  • Reason # 2: VA home loans can be used to purchase foreclosed and short-sale properties, often with little or no money down. VA-eligible borrowers possess an advantage over those who need up to 20% cash down to qualify for conventional loans. Work through a VA appraiser who is trained to certify value and safety. He will be able to steer you away from problem properties that are not a good investment.
  • Reason # 3: If you are currently deployed overseas, you can sign a power of attorney or (POA) designating your spouse or someone else to act in your behalf for a VA home loan. The POA grants permission for the attorney in fact to sign on behalf of the VA-eligible borrower.  The service member must give intent to obtain a VA loan through an email, letter, or other written notification. Only a spouse can satisfy the occupancy rule (move in within 60 days of closing) in a deployed serviceperson’s stead. Otherwise, the borrower serving away from home is granted an extension of up to 12 months to occupy the home.
  • Reason # 4: There are knowledgeable specialists who can help you get the facts. You should not trust a real estate as a reliable source for VA loan information.  A VA specialty lender, one whose majority product is VA-backed loans, can provide reliable VA mortgage lending facts.
  • Reason # 5: If a lender is specialized in VA home loans, then closing can often happen within 30 days. The VA-approved lender is given flexibility to decide on its own whether a borrower is a satisfactory credit risk.  Oftentimes a borrower with extenuating circumstances can close quickly.

Where do I Start?

Your quest for a VA home loan starts with a Certificate of Eligibility (COE). You are required to obtain a COE to pursue a VA mortgage loan. If you do not have this certificate, you will need to apply using VA Form 26-1880 (which requires a copy of DD-214—your Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty showing character of service). Along with the COE, you will need to document your credit, savings, and employment information to apply for a VA home loan.

Why get a Military Home Loan?

Simply put, there are distinct financial advantages to do so. A  VA Home Loan allows qualified buyers the opportunity to purchase a home with no down payment. There are also no monthly mortgage insurance premiums to pay, limitations on buyer’s closing costs, and an appraisal that informs the buyer of the property value. For most loans on new houses, construction is inspected at appropriate stages and a 1-year warranty is required from the builder. VA also performs personal loan servicing and offers financial counseling to help veterans having temporary financial difficulties.

I’ve Already Used My VA Loan Eligibility

You can have previously-used entitlement “restored” one time only to purchase another home with a VA loan if the borrower has paid off the prior loan but still owns the property, and wants to use his entitlement. This often occurs with active duty borrowers who transfer to a new station but want to keep their existing home for retirement. However if the prior loan has been paid off, AND the property is no longer owned, they can have their entitlement restored as many times as they want.  They can re-use their VA eligibility for every home purchase from the first to the last.

A veteran’s maximum entitlement is $89,912, and lenders will generally loan up to four times your available entitlement without a down payment, provided your income and credit qualifications are fine, and the property appraises for the asking price.

Remember, there is no time like the present!

Get Started With Your VA Loan Today

Good Timing for a VA ARM Loan?

Are you 40 or older and reasonably well off? You might be surprised at how well an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) could work out for you at this stage of life. ARMs are only a small part of the market, but most people are surprised to find out that most of them don’t adjust for five or seven years, meaning this option can make a lot of sense if you don’t plan on being in your home long or for older refinancing homeowners with lots of equity.

Why Consider a VA ARM?

You might be asking “why should I even consider an ARM?” or “Is an ARM safe?” The biggest savings come if you pay off the loan within the five to seven years before the ARM adjusts–effectively turning it into a very short, very low-rate fixed mortgage. That’s attractive if, for example, you plan to move in the next several years or if you want to pay off a big mortgage before you retire.

A surprising number of veterans never really look into their Veterans Affairs (VA) loan guarantee. The VA home mortgage was established  for the purchase of homes, condominiums, co-ops, and manufactured homes. The VA guarantees a percentage of the loan, which helps you obtain a no-down payment mortgage at a competitive interest rate.

Some Advantages of Adjustable-rate Mortgages

  • Feature lower rates and payments early on in the loan term.
  • Allow borrowers to take advantage of falling rates without refinancing.
  • Help borrowers save and invest more money.
  • Offer a cheap way for borrowers who don’t plan on living in one place for very long to buy a house.
  • Because lenders can use the lower payment when qualifying borrowers, people can buy larger homes than they otherwise could buy.
  • Instead of having to pay a whole new set of closing costs and fees, ARM borrowers just sit back and watch the rates -and their monthly payments fall.
  • Someone who has a payment that’s $100 less with an ARM can save that money and earn more off it in a higher-yielding investment.

Are You Eligible for a VA Home Loan?

You may qualify for a guaranteed VA loan if you are:

  • A veteran (including Reserve and National Guard members who were called to active duty)
  • An active duty service member
  • A current Reserve and Guard member (usually after six years of reserve service)
  • Certain surviving spouses
  • A commissioned Officer of the Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, once discharged.

Generally, in order to receive VA benefits and services the Veteran/service member’s character of discharge or service must be under honorable conditions. However, individuals receiving undesirable, bad conduct, and other types of dishonorable discharges may qualify for VA benefits depending on a determination made by VA.

Your Next Steps

To apply for a VA home mortgage loan, you will need a valid Certificate of Eligibility (COE). There are several ways to obtain your COE:

  • You may be able to obtain a COE online through eBenefits at
  • If you are unable to obtain your COE through eBenefits, check with your lender. In most cases, your lender will be able to obtain a COE for you using the Automated Certificate of Eligibility (ACE) program.
  • You can download VA Form 26-1880, “Request for A Certificate of Eligibility” at Complete it and mail it with proof of military service to the VA Eligibility Center.

For more information on this program, visit

Recovering from the Wounds of War

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have filled our minds with images of wounded warriors coming home missing an arm or leg – and sometimes missing multiple appendages. The enemy in these wars discovered that one of their most effective means of warfare was to scavenge unexploded ordinance and from it make incredibly powerful improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

The IEDs are positioned where US troops might pass by, usually in vehicle convoy, and then detonated at the moment the convoy vehicles arrive. The sheer concussive force of these explosions leads to horrific injuries—most loss-of-limb injuries occur in this way.

According to new data released Wednesday, more than 1,500 Americans have lost a leg or arm in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan; hundreds more have suffered the amputation of multiple limbs. Since 2001, when the war in Afghanistan was launched in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, 5,225 American military personnel have been killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq.

The casualty statistics are the tip of the iceberg when representing the suffering of the injured and of the families of those killed or injured. Many of the wounded are 25 years old or younger, meaning they and their families face a lifetime of medical expenses.

These grave statistics, not even mentioning the thousands and thousands with psychological wounds and social trauma, explains why the Department of Veterans Affairs is rushing to expand its medical and mental health services for the new generation of veterans.

Recent statistics compiled by the VA show that nearly 45% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are seeking some kind of compensation for injuries or disabilities they claim are a result of their war-time service. This staggering statistic hints and the billions and billions it will eventually cost to attend to and care for these war veterans.

There is room to be grateful. In other times and with other generations the loss of a limb often proved fatal in the war arena. Modern advances in technology, treatment, and heightened response times have dramatically increased the survival rates for loss of limb injuries. The overall survival rate for the general population of wounded WWII soldiers was 60 percent, compared to 70 percent in the Vietnam War and 95 percent in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Prosthetic technology has advanced significantly since WWII. A vast body of research gained from treating American soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan has led to robotic knees and ankles that adjust to terrain and activity. Leg amputees now run marathons, climb mountains and even skydive. And a new bionic arm powered by the thoughts of the person wearing it can mimic almost all the movements of a real hand.

Earlier this year Air Force Tech Sgt. Joe Deslauriers became the first patient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to begin using the Modular Prosthetic Limb (MPL). The MPL has nearly as much dexterity as a natural limb, 22 degrees of motion, and independent movement of fingers; it was developed as part of a four-year program by Johns Hopkins University.

Seeing the MPL in action, you get the sense that the future has arrived. While the expense of such prosthesis is currently prohibitive, it shows that a robotic replacement arm and hand can function for real in a way that was once the stuff of science fiction, purely imagination.

When you see a photo of an athlete competing in a competitive sport or in a physically challenging activity, remember the price of freedom.  Remember those who have sacrificed so much that we might continue to have the wonderful liberties that have come to represent the United States of America.

You may have missed my article on dogs for wounded vets. It is good to see that the US is standing behind its wounded and disabled veterans, seeking solutions to ensure quality of life and reintegration into society. These things give us all hope.

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Veterans Online Job Fair

You don’t have to be technically savvy to benefit from the job-seeker-giant Monster’s upcoming Veterans Virtual Career Fair (VCF). Figuring out the next thing is always relevant and this online forum is a place where many companies looking to hire experience are matched up with those looking to find a good career.

As one of the nation’s largest employment facilitators, Monster is well qualified and well equipped to put you in touch with an employer that is looking for the skills and knowledge that you may have acquired in your military experience. It costs nothing to register and you might just be surprised at what is available to you. Certainly it is worth the effort to take a look at.

The VCF will be held from August 27th-29th and, as I stated is free to the veteran community. (Did I mention this doesn’t cost you anything to register?!!) I little faith on your part could kick start a new  career by helping you find your next job at this virtual event.

Register and Submit Your Resume

You can register now for the VCF and complete your resume and profile, which can then be used to connect with employers when the fair begins. As someone who has made a career out of writing, my advice to you is to go over your resume carefully. Check grammar and spelling. Make sure you represent your experience properly. There are plenty of places online that can help with that. I ran across this thread on the National Guard website, which has some good resume advice:

Pre-registration allows you to create a profile and upload your resume before the fair begins. Features such as accessing e-Stands, completing compatibility tests, leaving your resume, and applying for jobs will become available as soon as the fair starts.

The way I see it, you really have everything to gain here and nothing to lose. The VCF is an opportunity to fast track your military experience to a civilian career. At the Veterans Virtual Career Fair you will be able to communicate and engage with exhibitors and attendees in a collaborative virtual environment.

If you have questions about the VCF, you can email your questions to the sponsor, Monster, at

Computer Requirements

There are minimum requirements for your computer as well. If your computer is pretty old and running lousy, it might be worth spending a few bucks to have someone go through it, clean it up, upgrade it if needed, and make sure current versions of a couple of web browsers are on it. I’d be really careful here. You can get a completely new computer for $400 and so you don’t want to go spending a lot of money. A RAM upgrade is pretty cheap and updated browser versions are free for downloading.

The following browsers are compatible with the Virtual Career Fair technology:

    • Internet Explorer 7 or higher
    • Firefox 3.6 or higher
    • Safari 5 or higher
    • Chrome 6 or higher

If you aren’t sure which browser to use, the Firefox or Chrome options should not disappoint you. The Virtual Fair also requires Flash player version or higher. The required Flash movie version is bundled with these updated browsers. Browsers types not mentioned in the above list, or versions lower than what is specified above, are not compatible and may experience loading issues.

Good luck with the job search and happy job hunting!

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More on Military Budget Cuts

The further we go down this sequestration road the more clearly we begin to see the reality of mandated military spending reductions. In a worst case scenario outlined today by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the Army could shrink to 380,000 troops and the Marines Corps to 150,000. The Navy would lose three carriers, and the Air Force would begin mothballing its B-52 bomber fleet.

Tighten Your Belts

In sobering news for current service members, veterans, and family members, increased Tricare fees, reductions in housing allowances, pay raise cuts, and fewer commissary subsidies are about to become the norm. Hagel warned of these eventualities unless Congress and the White House can agree to lift the sequestration deficit-reduction mandate that is projected to take $500 billion in defense budgets over the next 10 years. Click here if you haven’t read the White House’s response to specifics about sequestration.

The military has conducted a painful review designed on “maximizing the military’s combat power by looking to reduce every other category of spending first,” according to Hagel. To that end, the review led by Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter sought to make a “basic tradeoff” between the military’s “capacity and capability,” Hagel said.

Hagel is not the only voice of warning when it comes to sounding the trumpet over how the military is being affected and will be affected in the coming years. Hagel and others in Washington are increasing the rhetoric in an effort to call attention to what they feel are spending cuts that are too severe.

For more than a year, as the Iraq war ended and Afghanistan was winding down, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, has been warning that sequester might force him to cut troop strength below the cut from 570,00 soldiers to 490,000, which was already underway. Citing this latest review Hagel said that the number of soldiers in the Army could fall as low as 380,000, but a senior Pentagon official said later that the troop strength would more likely fall in the range of about 450,00.

The Marine Corps, which now has slightly more than 200,000 troops, had been projected to come down to about 182,000, but the defense leaders outlining the review said the number could be as low as 150,000

Hagel said the number of aircraft carriers in the Navy might have to drop from the current 11 to eight, and he also said that the Air Force would have to retire older bombers and slash the number of tactical squadrons.

Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the review was shortsighted, but “what it does make clear is what I’ve been cautioning all along — further cuts will cause catastrophic readiness shortfalls. We will lose our workforce and ability to recruit and retain the all volunteer force and our influence around the world will diminish,” McKeon said in a statement.

The hardest part of watching the sequestration scythe cut through the military is the randomness and devastation of its stroke. Sequestration really makes no attempt to qualify anything; it simply sets quantification limits and  lets everything lie as it falls.

Defense Secretary Hagel again pled with congress to act. “It is the responsibility of our nation’s leadership to work together to replace the mindless and irresponsible policy of sequestration,” Hagel said.

“It is unworthy of the service and sacrifice of our nation’s men and women in uniform and their families,” Hagel said. “Even as we confront tough fiscal realities, our decisions must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask America’s sons and daughters to make for our country.”

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NEADS Assistance Dogs

I have a dog. What I mean is my son has a dog and I just mostly get to take care of it. Read on and you will see that I am not complaining. My son, McKay, begged and pleaded for a dog since he was old enough to talk. We had never had a dog. We figured owning a dog would be a lot of work and a hassle whenever we left town. We were mostly wrong about all that. We have gotten a lot more from that dog than we have given.

A Dog Becomes Family

One of my friends, out of the wild blue, stopped by on a winter’s day and asked if we wanted a puppy. He said he had one more. We went over and looked at the litter. They were cute little guys, ½ Australian Shepherd and ½ Blue Healer, cattle dogs. There was one female left. With doubts a plenty we decided to give the dog a home. Our son was as excited as I’ve ever seen him.

I wanted to name the little girl “Wolf,” or “Jet,” or “Atom.” My son named her “Sunshine” instead. I think it took a whole two days for her to be a permanent part of the family. There hasn’t been a cloudy day since Sunshine first shined on our lives.

We found out in just a few days what a lot of disabled and PTSD-suffering vets are also finding out: being around a dog can heal and calm you in ways you never before understood. That’s the truth. Sometimes we find resources in things that we never imagined or never understood. I found it also true that a person doesn’t need to understand in advance how a dog can help. That person can still be dramatically helped by the companionship of a dog. I am a witness to all that.

The bible speaks of the Balm in Gilead (Gen. 37:25; Jer. 8:22; Jer. 46:11), an ointment or a medicine that had highly valued restorative properties. We have long lost that prized recipe, the application of which leads to comfort and healing. Comfort and healing have more than one shape. Gilead’s balm has a modern version in a canine form.

I want to make an introduction.  When I first heard about a nonprofit organization known as NEADS—Dogs  for Deaf and Disabled Americans—I was certain that the premise was sound. But I have never been a soldier and have never been in war, so I couldn’t speak to whether or not a dog might promote healing from those types of pains and horrors.I looked into it, reading a bit. The evidence is overwhelming to the affirmative: dogs help healing. Dogs frequently help suffering vets.

Like most nonprofits, the good that NEADS can do is a factor of the participation they get from others who show they care by donating. I have no affiliation at all with NEADS, but I am sure these wonderful people can use your help, however modest or meager. They have an excellent outreach program to veterans and have even set up a survivor’s fund for the Boston Marathon bombing victims. To those survivors, as for qualifying veterans, NEADS provides assistance dogs at no cost.

Here is just a sampling of what NEADS assistance dogs do for their companions:

  • Help with the transition to prosthetics
  • Aid with balance when walking
  • Retrieve and carry objects
  • Press buttons and open doors
  • Turn lights on and off
  • Provide support on ramps and stairs
  • Offer valuable social interaction
  • Assist with tasks for veterans in a wheelchair
  • Respond to sounds for veterans who have hearing loss

Are you a wounded vet or a vet suffering from PTSD? Do you know someone who is? Most of us do. I invite you to do something meaningful and pay this forward—the NEADS website. My own experience tells me that this is a good work, one that just might add hope into a struggling veteran’s life.

There is yet a balm in Gilead.

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Homeless Vets Get Housing Grant Money

Here’s some good news to share with a needy veteran who may not be in the best of circumstances presently. A July 11, 2013 Department of Veterans’ Affairs announcement pledges $300 million in grants to get homeless veterans and their families into housing and keep at-risk vets in their homes.

The money triples the amount the department previously awarded through its Supportive Services for Veteran Families program to non-profit organizations that help the homeless and at-risk veteran populations, according to Lisa Pape, Director of Homeless programs

“This program is the crown jewel of programs in our continuum of care … to provide funding for community partners and nonprofit orgs to help homeless vets, their families and their children exit homelessness very quickly or maintain their current place of living if they’re having difficulty with paying bills and getting their needs met,” Pape said.

You can find some good information about VA grants for the homeless and financially distressed at the VA website:

You might be surprised at what a little expertise can do for you in the VA home mortgage space.  For example, the experts at can guide you through your options and provide answers to almost any question  you might have.

On the national level, Vincent Kane, director of the National Center for Homeless Veterans, said the latest announced funding marks the third time the department has awarded the grants. Kane touts the program as successful according to detailed research. “We found we had served over 35,000 individuals [through the program], 21,500 veterans and close to 10,000 children,” he said. “The success rate is at 86 percent.”

The number of vets without homes has since dropped 17 percent, though the problem still affects some 62,000 former service members on any given night, according to recent government estimates. Kane said the department expects the latest grants will help 120,000 veterans and family members re-gain permanent housing or stay in their homes over the next year.

The VA awarded the competitive grants to 319 community organizations with proven track records in providing vets with aid and services such as case management, financial planning, employment assistance, including transportation and child care. The groups also draw on other agencies’ services “when necessary to promote reestablishment of housing and the ability [of veterans] to be successfully reintegrated back into the community,” Kane said.

The VA committed more than $1 billion for the fiscal year 2013 to strengthen programs that prevent homelessness among veterans. In addition to housing-oriented programs, the department also funds health care, job training and education programs for homeless veterans, those at-risk of homelessness, and their families.

If you are a veteran in need of housing; or, if you know of a veteran in housing need, there is no time like the present to act.

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Egypt in Turmoil

Egypt is in turmoil. The N. African country is now in a political and constitutional vacuum. Military leaders have dissolved the solitary national-level representative assembly, the Shura Council, and they have rescinded the constitution. Nothing has been put into its governing place. Egypt is a country under military rule. Massive protests and political unrest continue unabated.

The country is to have five months to amend the constitution suspended when Mohamed Morsi was deposed, ratify it in a referendum, and then hold parliamentary elections, according the text of the decree published online by the Al-Ahram newspaper.

Egypt’s military, which picked top judge Mr Mansour to succeed Mr Morsi, has promised a quick return to civilian rule. This is the news after fifty-one people, mostly loyalists of Egypt’s ousted president, were killed earlier this week in front of the place Morsi was believed to be held.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said that the world and the region need Egypt to be stable. “As a student of that part of the world and someone who lived there… what we’re see is that democracy takes a while to stick,” Dempsey said.

Is the violence limited to Cairo?

No. Unrest has occurred throughout the country. Instability has spread and grown since the Egyptian military intervened to throw out the Islamist government. Divisions between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and opponents have been on open display in mass demonstrations across the big cities. Mob sexual assaults on women are one disturbing element of the protests. Reports out of Cairo claim that the instigators of the sexual assaults on women are being paid to create the chaos.

How does the Muslim Brotherhood plan to withstand the assault on its power?

After a year in control of the presidency, the Muslim Brotherhood is back in familiar territory as it challenges the military from the street. The Muslim Brotherhood is not backing down. Its large following is accustomed to a political struggle waged over decades with underground tactics. The leadership has called for an uprising, though it is not clear what form this will take. But the holy month of Ramadan has started and the traditional public gatherings will strengthen the Muslim Brotherhood’s ability to mobilize its followers.

Can the Egyptian army manage the transition?

The options are narrowing for the generals. The military had hoped to follow a “roadmap” by drawing on judges, technocrats and some non-Muslim Brotherhood politicians to run the country until elections under a new constitution. But key political backing from the movement’s opponents, including the ultra-Islamist Nour party, has evaporated.

General Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi is the military leader in charge. One could easily deduce that Adly Mansour, is not a president, but merely a figurehead. The military has taken on the most powerful political and social movement in the country and is running the risk the Islamists will turn to violence.

Arab nations have rushed in to pledge $12 billion to help stabilize affairs in Egypt.  The US response has been measured, given that US law requires aid to stop to countries that experience a military coup. US government officials seem to be taking a “wait and see” approach, despite strident calls from both political parties.

Will the new Egyptian government be friendly to the US?

This is a really good question and the simple truth is that it is doubtful. Virtually every party or organization of influence is lukewarm at best and decidedly chilled to the US in many instances. The US seems willing to continue scheduled aid to Egypt, including delivery of 4 F-16s to the military as currently scheduled for this month.

American diplomats and government officials have a very fine line to walk in the days ahead. What will happen in Egypt is anyone’s guess at this point. What sort of government, will prevail? Will the new government be will be an improvement on the governments of Mubarak and now Morsi? Will democracy in some form take hold? It’s anyone’s guess.

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US Army to Drop at Least 13 Brigades by 2017

As the U.S. military begins to grapple with mandated budget cuts, we are beginning to see some of the results. Troop reductions are one of the quickest ways in which the military intends to reduce its costs. Because cutting the budget is a process, we are likely to see a lot of give and take as military leaders work with lawmakers over the next five years.

DoD photo of Army soldiers by Staff Sgt. Aaron Allmon, U.S. Air Force. (Released)

The U.S. Army plans to eliminate at least a dozen brigades over the next five years in what has been described as the largest restructuring of the force since World War II. The Army will reduce the number of brigade combat teams from 45 to 33, a targeted reduction of 80,000 soldiers (to 490,000 soldiers) by 2017, according to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

Army Working to Preserve Combat Readiness

The Army is also reorganizing the makeup of the brigade combat teams to retain as much combat potential as possible despite the reductions, Odierno added. The service will add a third maneuver battalion – and additional fires and engineering potential to each armor and infantry brigade combat teams to make them more lethal, more flexible and more agile. According to Odierno, the Army will also keep investing in aviation, special operations, missile defense, and cyber security

A brigade is an imprecise troop count of between 3,000 to 5,000 solders. A brigade headquarters commands the tactical operation of two to five attached combat battalions. Normally commanded by a colonel with a command sergeant major as senior NCO, brigades are employed on independent or semi-independent operations.

Congressman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that has oversight in this area, does not paint a rosy picture going forward. “As damaging as they are, these cuts don’t begin to reflect the crippling damage sequestration will do to our armed forces and national security,” McKeon said in an e-mailed statement after the Army’s announcement. “This is only the tip of the iceberg. Much deeper cuts are still to come.”

At least 10 stateside installations (from all over the US) will lose a brigade each and two German bases are being inactivated, one from Baumholder and another from Grafenwoehr.

The reduction represents about a 14 percent drop in force size. General Odierno said the force would eventually drop to 32 brigades, but a decision had not yet been made on the final unit to be cut. He said as the 13 brigades are inactivated, some of the forces would be transferred to other brigades to make them “more lethal, more flexible and more agile.”

The Army hopes to absorb some of the effect of the cuts to troop strength with increased firepower and technological advancements. Battalions of infantry, Stryker combat vehicles, engineering and artillery units would be shifted to other brigades along with engineering and artillery units, according to Odieraid.

The cuts mainly affect the active-duty force. The Army Reserve will remain at 205,000 soldiers and the state-based National Guard militia will lose 8,000 soldiers, dropping to 350,000 from 358,000. However, depending on how Congress deals with the mandated budget cuts, the military may have to shed another 100,000 soldiers from the National Guard and Army Reserve. The first installment of across-the-board reductions took effect in March of this year.


Defense of Marriage Act Struck Down by Supreme Court Decision

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) clears a pathway for same-sex military couples to receive the same benefits as heterosexual married military couples. In the last several years DOMA has been used by both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to guide decisions on what kind of federal benefits to offer the domestic partners and spouses of gay troops and veterans.

Ashley Broadway, left, with wife Lt. Col. Heather Mack. (Credit: Ashley Broadway/NBC)

Gay Couples to Receive Benefits

Same-sex partners and spouses of military service members won’t automatically start receiving the same benefits as their heterosexual counterparts. But the ball is already rolling in that direction and military sources say it will be relatively easy to make the adjustments necessary to extend full benefits—from factoring in the spouse for housing allowance to burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Cost figures for such benefit extensions have not yet been computed.

Secretary of Defense Hagel expressed support for the landmark policy change, as did Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dempsey told reporters during an afternoon joint press conference with Hagel that “the Joint Chiefs have made it clear, we’ll follow the law of the land, and the law of the land just changed.”

Neither Hagel nor Dempsey offered much in the way of specifics, and there is plenty to be sorted out over the months ahead. The Pentagon did announce it is looking at what same-sex married troops will mean for overseas tours to countries that don’t recognize same sex relationships, let alone marriages.

Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon that there is still much research and work to be done to know how the end of DOMA will play out in every area.

“I have read the basic [Supreme Court] opinion. I have not talked to any lawyers about it,” Hagel said. “I’ve got a responsibility to carry out the law of the land, the decisions the Supreme Court made today … obviously we’re going to deal with the Justice Department and all the other executive offices to comply that law of the land, which we’re very pleased to do and will do and do it expeditiously, but beyond that I don’t know.”

While a U.S. Senator Hagel supported the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military as long as they were not open about their sexuality. His opposition to repealing the law came back to bite him when gay rights groups initially opposed his nomination to be Secretary of Defense.

Hagel successfully overcame the opposition with a commitment to ensuring gays would be fully welcome in the military.

“Every person who serves our nation in uniform stepped forward with courage and commitment,” he said. “All that matters is their patriotism, their willingness to serve their country and their qualifications to do so. Today’s ruling helps ensure that all men and women who serve this country can be treated fairly and equally, with the full dignity and respect they so richly deserve.”

Dempsey defended the Defense Department against the impression, held by some, he said, that the military “will find a way to fight this or fight that” when it comes to gays serving in the military.

“We actually have done what I think is a very credible job of ensuring as much equality as we can possibly provide to the men and women who serve this country in uniform voluntarily,” he said, “and we will do what we can for them within the limits of the law, but we haven’t had time to figure out what is yet.”

So, change is on the way. It would be a stretch to say anyone fully understands the costs and the implications of this new Supreme Court ruling. Expect a scramble as the military bureaucracy scrambles to understand the ruling, establish new policy, compute the associated costs, implement the required changes, and work with states that have laws that run contrary to the Supreme Court ruling.

Air Force Tightens Belt as Sequestration Takes Effect

Like the rest of the Defense Department, the Air Force has seen big funding cuts, leading to concerns about critical mission factors including the readiness of pilots and aircraft that aren’t flying today. “We’ve got folks sitting in fighter squadrons looking out of windows at aircraft that they haven’t touched since the first of April,” said Mark A. Welsh, the Air Force’s top officer.

Military leaders besides Welsh have expressed repeated frustration because they have little flexibility in applying the cuts—mainly because the law mandates the Defense Department enact a 9 percent cut across all programs.

For example, the Air Force has stood down 33 squadrons, 12 of which are combat-coded fighter and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance units. Another seven squadrons have been reduced to a basic mission capable rating.

Welsh recently told a group of civic and industry leaders there was a readiness crisis in the Air Force even before sequestration. He warned that the severe cutbacks required by the sequester will further downgrade force readiness beyond the current fiscal year if a budget agreement is not reached. “We can’t just all of a sudden accelerate training and catch up,” Welsh lamented. “It costs up to 2 1/2 times as much to retrain a squadron as it does to keep it trained.”

Sequestration is part of the Budget Control Act that mandates $1.2 trillion in cuts across federal agencies to include $500 million to the military over the next decade. Congress wrote sequestration into legislation to provide motivation for Congress to agree to a deficit reduction plan to replace the federal spending cuts. They failed to reach such an agreement and sequestration was triggered on March 1.

Military pay and the Department of Veterans Affairs have been exempted by President Obama from the cuts associated with sequestration, but everything else is on the table and subject to cuts, including family programs.

Importance of the F-35 Program

Welsh has gone on record saying the Air Force cannot perform its air superiority mission with today’s aging F-15 and F-16 fighters, and limited number of F-22s. He stressed the importance of having the next generation fighter, the F-35 and said acquisition of the new fighter was non-negotiable.

“When we truncated our F-22 buy, we ended up with a force that can’t provide air superiority in more than one area at a time,” Welsh said. “The F-35 is going to be part of the air superiority equation whether it was intended to be, originally, or not.”

Welsh made an interesting point when he observed that other countries will begin flying stealthy, highly-advanced fighters in the coming years. A US Air Force that doesn’t have the aircraft to counter these next-generation in a high-end fight it will be in trouble. “If a fourth-generation aircraft meets a fifth-generation aircraft, the fourth-generation aircraft may be more efficient, but it’s also dead,” Welsh concluded.

The troubled F-35 program has been years in development and has been plagued with cost overruns and technological troubles. If the Pentagon sticks to its current plan, taxpayers will spend in excess of $400 billion for the new fighters.

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Patriot Missile Batteries in High Demand

The Syrian civil war and the resulting regional destabilization has led to a renewed demand for Patriot missile batteries. Raytheon, the missile’s manufacturer, hopes to add to the list of countries protected by Patriot missile defense systems as the company begins to harvest technologies from Lockheed Martin’s canceled Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS).

That Raytheon should end up with MEADS technology is an interesting story.

More than 200 Patriot fire units are spread across 12 nations, including the U.S. But sales and improvements to the Patriot missile system have been stagnant for about 10 years. The Patriot program was highly jeopardized with the joint development program of MEADS, which was supposed to replace Patriot. But with cost overruns and sequestration, the U.S. Army recently decided it couldn’t afford MEADS. So it turned back to the Patriot missile system.

Raytheon is now happily using MEADS program developments to improve the Patriot. The US poured over $800 million into MEADS in the past two years even though it had no plans to field the program. Defense Department officials, responding to critics, say the money put into MEADS wasn’t wasted – it made sense to continue the development program to harvest new technologies that could bolster other systems like the Patriot.

Patriot Missiles in Turkey

The Syrian civil war and the general proliferation of ballistic missiles in Asia and the Middle East have spurred global interest in equipment that can shoot down such rockets. Patriot missiles are the weapon of choice. Six Patriot missile batteries are now operating under NATO command and control in southern Turkey. The Alliance rapidly deployed these assets in order to augment Turkey’s air defense capabilities to defend the population.

Two Dutch batteries are operating in Adana, two German batteries are in Kahramanmaras and two batteries from the United States are located in Gaziantep. Together, these Patriot batteries are actively defending 3.5 million people in Turkey against missile attacks.

More Countries to Get Patriots

Raytheon appears to be on the front end of a lot more Patriot Missile business. Negotiations to sell Patriot systems to Kuwait are near conclusion, according to Raytheon’s Sanjay Kapoor, vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense. Pentagon officials estimate the Kuwait agreement for Patriot missiles will have a value of as much as $4.2 billion.

In related news, the Pentagon confirmed last week that F-16 fighter jets and Patriot missile interceptors will remain in Jordan after the end of a joint military exercise this month. The United States is carefully monitoring the spillover of violence from Syria to its southern neighbor Jordan. Jordan is a key US ally in the region and one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel.

“Secretary (Chuck) Hagel has approved a request from the Kingdom of Jordan for a detachment of F-16s and Patriot Missiles to remain in Jordan following the conclusion of the Eager Lion Exercise,” spokesman George Little said in a statement.

Currently, Raytheon is continuing to work to add to its list of countries that own Patriot. Raytheon is in serious talks with Kuwait and Qatar. According to Raytheon, Poland is also very much interested in acquiring the Patriot Missile system.

You might say things are looking rosy at Raytheon right now.

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New Categories Allow Guard and Reservists to Retire Early

As of January 2013, Congress authorized more categories to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which originally applied only to reserve-component Soldiers serving in overseas contingency operations like Iraq and Afghanistan. The new categories mean more guard and reserve soldiers will now be eligible to receive retirement pay before 60, provided they meet certain criteria. Many soldiers have already taken advantage of the early-age retirement option.

The expanded early retirement criteria are undoubtedly linked to the military’s reduction in force plans. Selective early retirement is one way in which soldiers can be incentivized to leave the military ranks. In an interesting paper written for members of Congress, Andrew Feickert, a specialist in military ground forces, discusses the Army’s options for conducting its mandated restructuring.

In his summary statement, Feickert notes “ the Army can employ a variety of involuntary and voluntary drawdown tools authorized by Congress, such as Selective Early Retirement Boards (SERBs) and Reduction in Force (RIF). Voluntary tools that the Army might use include the Voluntary Retirement Incentive, the Voluntary Separation Incentive, Special Separation Bonuses, Temporary Early Retirement Authority, the Voluntary Early Release/Retirement Program, and Early Outs.”

The Pentagon plans a reduction in force of 67,100 soldiers from active and reserve Army units and the Army National Guard in the five years starting Oct. 1, as well as 15,200 from the active and reserve ranks of the Marine Corps as part of an effort to save $487 billion over a decade, according to the most recent budget sent to Congress. The Navy and Air Force would lose fewer people— 8,600 and 1,700 respectively –because of their role in a strategic shift toward the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East.

New Categories Added for Early Retirement

The new categories for early retirement include reserve-component soldiers who are activated to respond to national emergencies such as natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes. Another category is for those in warrior transition units who were hurt while mobilized for such responses.

Soldiers can find out if they meet the new criteria by checking their mobilization orders or their DD-214 discharge document. Those documents need to have any one of the following Title 10 or Title 32 U.S. codes annotated: 12301(a), 12301(d), 12301(h), 12302, 12304, 12305 or 12306.

If you think you might be eligible, you can check with Human Resources Command for eligibility information. The HRC can be reached by calling 502-613-8950.

Soldiers will still need to wait until their 60th birthday before they are eligible for Tricare, according to Sheila Dorsey, Chief, Reserve Component Retirements. Other than that, they will receive the normal retirement benefits such as exchange and commissary benefits.

How the New Categories Work

Eligible soldiers can accrue reduced-age retirement as follows:

  • During any fiscal year, soldiers can accrue 90 days of early retirement. Fewer days will not count or be carried over to the next fiscal year and more days past 90 will not count and will not be carried over to the next fiscal year. That 90-day period does not have to be contiguous. It could be the sum of more than one mobilization, so long as it meets the U.S. codes within that fiscal year.
  • Another rule is that the 90 days can accumulate over fiscal years. For example, if a soldier gets 90 days credit this fiscal year, he or she would be able to retire 90 days before age 60. Then, if a soldier also gets 90 days credit next fiscal year, he or she would be able to retire at age 59.5, or 180 days before age 60.

The accumulative effect can continue for a number of years in 90-day blocks, with the only stipulation being that a soldier cannot retire before age 50.

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US to Negotiate Peace with Taliban?

White House officials, after months of private talks and negotiations, just announced its support of direct talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the 12-year-old war that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

The Taliban is an Islamic fundamentalist political movement that ruled in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The Taliban state was recognized by only three countries and was condemned worldwide for its brutal treatment of women, its strict interpretation of religious law, and its destruction of anything seen as a Western (read corrupting) influence.

If peace talks happen, they could lead to a reduction in fighting across Afghanistan, according to a senior Afghan official. “We hope that the attacks carried out by the Taliban in Afghanistan will reduce while we talk peace; there is no point in talking if the bombs continue to kill civilians,” he added.

The US announcement followed Afghan President Karzai’s announcement in Kabul that negotiations would take place. The agreement to seek peace talks came on Taliban leaders agreed that Afghanistan would no longer be a safe haven for groups planning or conducting terrorist attacks against the United States or its allies, said senior White House officials.

Can the Taliban Divorce Itself from Al Qaeda?

One has to wonder if it is even possible for the Taliban to divorce itself from al Qaeda. I mean, Taliban leaders can say what they want, even perhaps believe that they want such a separation. But how do they divorce years of soldier-to-soldier relationships and enforce such separation? These people live in some of the most remote and unserviceable areas anywhere in the world. Saying it is one thing, doing it will prove to be quite another.

For the moment, don’t expect the Taliban to boot al Qaeda from the wagon train. The tribal relationships and intricate societal demands in Afghanistan make this a lot more complex than just getting people to agree. In fact, getting agreement may be the easy part. Actually putting in place policy that everyone will follow seems almost impossible at times, given the serpentine complexities of the region.

“We’ve long had a demand on the Taliban that they make a statement that distances themselves from [international terrorism], but made clear we didn’t expect immediately for them to break ties with al Qaeda, because that’s an outcome of the negotiation process,” said one White House official. He added that today’s action should be considered a first step and nothing near what the US will be requiring of them by the end of the process.

Karzai also announced in Kabul on Tuesday that Afghan forces are assuming the lead for security nationwide from the U.S.-led NATO forces. The U.S. and NATO mission is slated to wrap up by December 2014 though the White House and Pentagon have made clear there will be some forces remaining behind to continue support of the Afghan military.

Will the Afghan security force be able to enforce the law and keep the country secure? That remains to be seen. But the size of the Afghan National Security Forces has dramatically increased as it nears taking over national security. Just six years ago Afghan security forces numbered 40,000 men and women; today they are about 352,000.

Coalition troops are scheduled to move to an entirely supporting role—mostly training and mentoring. In emergency situations, the contingency plan is for US troops to provide backup to the Afghans in combat, mostly in the form of airstrikes and medical evacuations.

The question just about everyone is asking themselves is whether these security forces will remain loyal to the Karzai government. I can’t imagine any way to know other than waiting and see.

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