The Hard Life Because of “Bad Papers”

When Michael Hartnett was getting kicked out of the U.S. Marine Corps, he was too deep into post-traumatic stress disorder, drugs and alcohol to care as his battalion commander explained to the young man that his career was ending, and ending badly.

In 1993, after combat tours in the Gulf War and Somalia, Hartnett joined tens of thousands of veterans with “bad papers”. They served but then conducted themselves badly — anything from repeated breaches of military discipline to drugs or more serious crimes. Under current law, the Pentagon and, in most cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs wash their hands of these veterans.

They lose benefits like the GI Bill for school or a VA home loan, but they also can’t get VA health care and disability compensation, even for the PTSD that may have caused the bad discharge. No jobs programs from the government or the private sector; even VA homelessness prevention is geared only toward honorably discharged vets.

“You might as well have never even enlisted,” says Hartnett. “[It’s] worse than being a convicted felon.”

Veterans with bad discharges stand apart, as troops returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy an outpouring of public goodwill and unprecedented spending at the VA. Even for veterans who get in trouble with the law there is a harsh divide. Vets who make their mistakes after getting out of the military with an honorable discharge have access to relief, like the special veterans’ courts that are springing up around the country. They allow vets supervised treatment instead of jail time. If the same crime is committed by an active-duty soldier, the consequences are different, says Tom White, an Iraq veteran who taught law at West Point.

“It may be a month before they get out [of the military]. The command come down on you like a ton of bricks. Justice is typically served cold and hard,” he says.

White directs the veterans’ legal clinic at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. He and other advocates across the country see a wave of young vets having brushes with the law.

“We see it coming, and we see a deluge,” says Sharon Schlerf, who runs Beacon Institute Military Support in Virginia. She likens the problems of some young vets with troubled veterans of the Vietnam generation, neglected for years, increasing the cost to the veterans and to society.

“From the incarceration to homelessness, all of the issues. … If you don’t capture them now, get them stabilized, then all we are doing is doubling those numbers,” says Schlerf.

When the veterans can’t get VA help, it’s groups like Beacon that pick up the slack, which doesn’t make economic sense, according to Phil Carter, an Iraq veteran at the Center for a New American Security.

“In many of these cases, there’s a very good justification for giving bad paper,” he says. “But at a strategic level, the government has to take the long view and ask whether they want to deprive these people of support for their lifetime, and shift the burden of care from the immense and very capable resources of the VA to communities and nonprofits across the country who don’t have those resources. There’s a very, very large cost to society by giving bad paper.”

At a recent conference of veterans treatment courts in Washington, D.C., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Martin Dempsey, responded to a question about helping veterans with bad paper.

“I wouldn’t suggest that we should in any way reconsider the way we characterize discharges at the time of occurrence,” Dempsey said. “It is a complex issue and we all make choices in life that then we live with for the rest of our lives and I think we have to understand that as well.”

Dempsey pointed out that there are ways to correct or revise a discharge.

But veterans with bad paper say myths and misconceptions surround the process. The most commonly held misconception is that an “other than honorable” discharge automatically upgrades after a few months or years. It does not.

Getting a discharge upgrade is possible with several categories of discharge. That’s what Michael Hartnett did. After more than 15 years of PTSD-fueled drug abuse — through jail, psychiatric wards and homelessness — a discharge review board granted clemency. The board concluded that evidence of PTSD should have been considered at his court-martial in 1993.

“I was forgiven. It was the Marines saying, ‘You’ve had enough, Michael. Go live your life. Do something with it.’ I’d like to write them up and say, ‘Look, with the chance that you’ve given me, this is what I’ve done with it,’ ” he says. Hartnett now gets education benefits, and he’s using them to get a degree in social work, with the aim of helping other vets.

A discharge upgrade like his is uncommon, requires a lawyer and can take years. But there are remedies open to veterans with bad paper, who can appeal at the VA for a character of service evaluation.

“We encourage veterans who have bad discharges … to file a claim. We’ll then review it, and there’s a possibility always that we’ll find in favor,” says Brad Flohr, a senior adviser at the VA.

Top 5 Reasons to Choose Mortgage Broker as a Career

Why on earth would anyone choose to be a mortgage broker in these hard economic times? If given the choice with all the issues in the housing market, you might think me or anyone else a fool to get started in this industry.

But I am here to dispel this myth and shed some light on why mortgage brokering can be a great employment choice.

My Path to a Secure Job in the Mortgage Industry

I have been doing loans since 2001. In fact, it was right after the 9/11 tragedy that I started. Before becoming a mortgage broker, I managed financial accounts with companies like Sprint, American Express, and Fleet credit cards. I worked for a company that handled these accounts, which seemed to be good for me at the time.

I thought that I must work for the “MAN” to be successful and earn a decent wage, but I was wrong. The company started downsizing, and I took a 50% pay cut on my salary. This was extremely bad for me financially because my wife stopped working and we had just had our first child. Because job security working for corporate America was not secure anymore, I figured I must make a change.

Through a family member, I started working as a loan officer for a company that specialized in nothing but government loans (FHA, VA).

I have since stayed on that career path, and it’s proven to be more stable than any other job. I have found out that if you have a niche market and a good business model, you can be successful in the industry.

Being a mortgage broker has its benefits over working for a lender. Look at Countrywide, Taylor Bean & Whitaker, etc. They serviced mortgage loans and they are out of business. Being a mortgage broker, you don’t service your own loans and you are set up with multiple lenders, which makes brokering loans more flexible and adaptable to an ever-changing market.

Top 5 Best Things about a Career as a Mortgage Broker:

The following are some of the top reasons to choose mortgage brokering as a career:

1.  Job Security – You are not a liability to the company (salaried employee). If you don’t close loans, then you don’t make money (and you end up by costing the company nothing). No one goes to work and says, “I’m not going to make any money today.” Work hard and you’ll likely find success.

2.  Schedule – You can make your own schedule. It’s up to you. If you take more time off you make less money due to a lack of prospects. The difference is you are in control, not your boss.

3.  Satisfaction of doing good – Seriously, it’s been great, in my situation, to get to help Veterans and other families obtain homes. Homeownership is much better than paying rent, and it’s something people can call their own. Whether or not you get to help veterans, knowing you played an important part of helping someone get a home gives a certain sense of purpose and satisfaction.

4.  Money opportunity – Once again this is not like a salaried job where no matter how many hours you put in and how hard you work you end up by making the same. Actually in a salaried position the longer hours you work the less you are actually making per hour. Being a Loan Officer the harder I work the more opportunity there is to make money. There is no ceiling, no cap on how much you can make.

5.  Industry Knowledge – Having a full understanding of how mortgages work can actually save you a lot of mortgage interest money. If you understand how interest works, escrow and your loan program on your own home loan then you can apply the principles you learn and probably tell others to your own loan.

But aren’t Mortgage Brokers the Bad Guys?

I have recently read on other blogs that mortgage brokers contributed to this housing mess and that we have no place in the industry.

I will admit that there were probably many brokers who engaged in predatory lending, but to say that all mortgage brokers caused this would be ignorant. There are many actions, people, and systems to blame, and mortgage brokering as a whole can’t be blamed.

After this mess, I hope that all homebuyers, especially Veterans, do their due diligence to avoid brokers who are less than reputable. I sincerely hope for the best for homebuyers and owe a lot to this industry and Veterans. My company specializes in VA home loans, and this has been able to keep us busy and in business through all the difficult and uncertain times.

In summary, I would not have changed my career path whatsoever. The last 7 years have been very rewarding.

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