What Is the Minimum Credit Score for a VA Loan?

Drawing of cell phones showing different credit scores with their ratings

Many lenders require your credit score to be above a certain number before they’ll issue you a VA loan. And they’re allowed to do that.

But there isn’t a minimum credit score for VA loan qualification according to the VA’s guidelines, so Low VA Rates chooses not to require one. We can, and often do, work with veterans who have very low credit scores.

Good and Bad Credit Scores

To refresh your memory, the lowest possible credit score is 300, and the highest is 850. Lenders often rate scores like this:

  • <550: Bad
  • 550–649: Poor
  • 650–699: Fair
  • 700–749: Good
  • 750+: Excellent

We know that some veterans with low scores have just had financial trouble in the past, but they’re now able and willing to pay their debts. And some veterans just haven’t had a chance to build a credit history yet.

Because of these reasons, we’ve chosen to help them instead of just turning them away for a loan.

How to Improve Your Credit Score

Of course, we’re still aware of borrowers’ credit scores, and there’s a cost to a low score: you probably won’t be able to get the best interest rates, which leads to higher monthly payments.

Some borrowers choose to work on improving their credit score before taking out a mortgage—even if it takes a year or two. You’re going to pay off a house over many years, so it can benefit you to have lower payments over that whole period.

And we’ll definitely work with you any time you’d like to get a quote! And, if we find out your credit score doesn’t qualify you for the interest rate you’d want, we’ll work with you directly to help raise it, even if it means waiting a while before you can get a mortgage from us.

But, in the meantime, if you’re not quite ready to call in and talk with a loan officer, here are five tips that can help you start raising your score now:

  1. Never be late on debt payments
  2. Keep low or zero balances on credit cards
  3. Only get one new line of credit at a time
  4. Pay off debts as soon as possible, beginning with the one that has the highest interest rate
  5. Order your credit report once a year and fight any mistakes in it

One thing to note is that, even if you follow these pieces of advice exactly, you might not see an improvement to your credit score for several months. This is especially true for paying off a debt.

The reason for this delay is that it can sometimes take a few months for the credit bureaus to remove that debt from your credit report. But we promise, if you follow these steps, it will happen!

Even if you don’t have any kind of credit history, these five pieces of advice still apply, though in a slightly different way. Essentially what you’ll want to do is get a single credit card and follow these five guidelines in how you use that card.

Doing so will help you start building a positive credit history, and once you’ve developed good habits with one card, you could apply for another one, and so on, to keep that positive credit data growing.

How Low VA Rates Can Help Those with Low Credit Scores

We specialize in loans for veterans. If you talk with one of our loan specialists—some who are veterans like you—he or she will look at several factors in your background.

One of the first and most important is your honorable military service is first. The next important qualification is the stability of your income, which can be from a job, VA disability payments, or investments.

They’ll also help you add up all your expenses, including debt payments and the potential VA loan, to make sure you’ll have enough money left over at the end of each month. This is a VA guideline, which helps the VA loan program to be safer for you and for all veterans.

And, while they’ll also look at your credit score, we know that a high credit score doesn’t always guarantee that someone can handle a new mortgage because their situation may have changed.

We also know the opposite is true, so even if you have a low credit score, you can qualify for a good VA loan as long as you can show your willingness and ability to afford and pay for it.

So, whether you choose to improve your credit score first or you want to buy your home right away, Low VA Rates will be here to help.

FAQ: What is a VA loan

 

What is a VA Loan?

VA Loans

 

A VA loan is different from a conventional or FHA loan. A conventional loan is what most people think of when they think of a mortgage – you go to a lender, make a down payment, get offered an interest rate, and start making your payments. Conventional loans require at least a 20% down payment. FHA loans are a small step closer to VA loans but still a far cry. FHA loans are partially guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and enable borrowers to buy a house if they can’t make a 20% down payment. FHA loans, however, require mortgage insurance, which can add hundreds of dollars each month to your monthly payment.

 

VA loans are better in pretty much every way. Just like the FHA guarantees FHA loans, the VA guarantees VA loans. Also, just like the FHA doesn’t actually make the loan (a normal lender does), the VA does not actually loan any money for a VA loan. A VA loan is a home loan that is guaranteed (not offered) by the Veterans Administration. VA loans are obtained through VA-approved lenders who choose to offer them. The VA will force no lender to offer VA loans, and any lender who does so has discretion as to what loan types they will offer. For example, right now it is very difficult to find a lender who is willing to offer a VA construction loan, even though the VA is perfectly willing to guarantee one. The amount of discretion given to the lender may seem odd, or even unfair, but lenders need to have the ability to make only the loans that are a safe bet for them or they’ll go out of business – or none would choose to offer VA loans.

 

The VA guarantees a portion of the loan amount to the lender in case of default to lessen the risk and enable them to offer veterans more favorable loan terms than they could otherwise qualify for. The VA does not guarantee the entire loan amount, and the percentage of the loan that they guarantee depends on how much the loan is being made for. The percentage is always between 20% and 50% – never more than 50% and never less than 20%. The percentage being guaranteed may affect the interest rate the lender offers you – but it may not; hybrid ARMs, for example, have their interest rates calculated differently and won’t really be affected by the percentage of the loan being guaranteed.

 

What’s even better, the VA does not require the borrower to make a down payment on the loan, and also does not require mortgage insurance even if the borrower does not make any down payment at all. Where the FHA loan program exists simply to make home ownership available to more people and situations, the VA loan program is intended to be a major benefit to those who choose to serve our country. As such, the VA loan program is far more concerned with making the loan as good a deal as possible for the borrower. That’s why, instead of mortgage insurance, every VA borrower pays a one-time VA funding fee. There are some who are exempt, but most borrowers are not. The funding fee gets less depending on how large of a down payment the borrower makes, and can even be rolled into the loan amount if the borrower wishes to take no money out of pocket for the loan.

 

In direct answer to the question at the top, a VA loan is a gateway to home ownership and thousands of saved dollars for eligible borrowers. Most veterans and surviving spouses are eligible for the VA loan program, and would be wise to utilize it if at all possible. A VA loan is guaranteed by the VA and funded by normal lenders who have gone through the application process to be approved by the VA to offer VA loans. The VA has strict requirements for approval for lenders, and does a great job at making sure that only ethical lenders are approved to offer VA loans. For more information on VA loans, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page or contact one of our representatives today.

 

FAQ VA Loan Use

What Can you use a VA Loan for?

 

This is one of the most common questions that get asked about the VA loan program. The VA tries very hard to focus on the purpose of the program while making the benefits available to veterans in as many situations as possible. The purpose of the VA loan program is to help eligible borrowers obtain suitable housing at better terms than they could otherwise get. The focus here  is “suitable housing”. The rule of thumb is that the property must qualify as a home and must be considered suitable to meet the veteran’s needs. Understanding the spirit of the program, you can probably hazard a guess at what sorts of purchases will be approved and what will not. You won’t be buying a vacant wal-mart with your VA loan, but you can buy a house in the suburbs.

 

What to use a VA Loan forThe VA will not allow a borrower to purchase a purely commercial property using the VA loan program. While the property being purchased can have a commercial unit, there must be a residential unit as well, and the commercial unit is not permitted to have more than 25% of the total square footage of the property. This means that for borrowers who would like to open a small shop or office in their home, the VA loan program will work, but for borrowers wanting to open a larger store, workshop, or office, they will have to look elsewhere for funding. In this way, the VA loan program stays true to its purpose while still staying open to as many situations as possible. Many borrowers, however, are more interested in using their VA loan benefits to purchase a property that they can then rent out for a small profit. While not a bad idea, the VA has restrictions on what you can and cannot do.

 

For a single borrower (joint loans are a bit different), the property being purchased can have no more than four residential units, and the borrower him/herself must occupy one of the units. The borrower is allowed to open up the remaining units for rent, at whatever rate they feel is appropriate. So at most, you could buy a four-unit property, live in one, and rent out the other three. While certainly a nice pad on your income, the mortgage and cost of upkeep on a property that large would probably limit the profitability for awhile. It is also permitted to have one commercial unit with up to four residential units on the same property, as long as the borrower is living in one of the units as their primary residence. Joint loans can be different; if more than one VA-eligible borrower is using their entitlement on the VA loan, the maximum number of residential  units increases accordingly, but there can still be only one commercial unit. Joining up with another VA-eligible borrower can be a good way to increase your income potential from renting units.

 

We’ve touched on it a bit already, but we need to clarify the VA’s occupancy requirement. With multiple units, the borrower must occupy one of them, yes, but no matter what the property is that is being purchased, the borrower must certify that he or she intends to occupy the home as their primary residence. The VA will not allow you to use their guarantee on a home or other property that you are not planning on using as a primary residence. You cannot use a VA loan for a summer home, vacation home, purely rental property, or anything other than what you can use as a primary residence. The VA are also sticklers about the word “suitable”.

 

You will run into trouble if you try to purchase a mobile home with a VA loan. In order to be considered suitable for a veteran, the property must have a permanent foundation.Some manufactured homes can qualify, as long as they are on a concrete foundation. If the veteran has special needs or a disability, the home must also be considered suitable to meet their needs – for example, if the veteran is in a wheelchair, a 3-story home is probably not a good call, even if it has a way to assist the veteran from going from floor to floor. For more details and to answer any specific questions, contact a VA-approved lender.

 

Veteran Unemployment Facts & The Companies That Want to Hire You

The following presentation outlines stats and facts related to Veteran unemployment and also highlights a number of companies that are focused on hiring Veterans including: Walmart, Verizon, UPS, General Electric, and more.

 

How to Transfer Your GI Bill Benefits to Your Spouse

The Post 9/11 GI Bill is a fantastic resource for veterans and active servicemembers, and provides a great deal of assistance to those seeking higher education. One of the best things about the GI Bill, however, is that it is transferrable. In other words, you can transfer your GI Bill benefits to your spouse, as long as your spouse is qualified. There are some indications that Congress will act to bring the benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill down to save taxpayer dollars, so it may be wise to be very strategic in determining how and when you want to use your GI Bill benefits – and for whom.

education

Since the Post 9/11 GI Bill went into effect, many military families have found that the biggest advantage to the program actually comes from being able to use the GI Bill for the non-military spouse’s education. The GI Bill may enable the spouse to get certified or get a degree that will allow the spouse to get better jobs than they can currently qualify for. Now, it’s important to remember that spouses who are utilizing the GI Bill benefit in place of the veteran are not eligible for the housing portion of the benefit (the Post 9/11 GI bill normally has a monthly allowance to cover housing for the veteran as he or she attends school). Usually, however, the lack of monthly allowance can be shrugged off in favor of having the spouse be able to finish his or her education before the servicemember is discharged from active duty.

There are some important things to know about transferring your GI Bill benefits to your spouse. We’ll talk about them here. First, you need to know that your spouse has to be enrolled in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System) before the benefits can be transferred. The spouse also has to show in that system as being eligible to receive transferred benefits before the transfer can take place. There is additional criteria for the servicemember in order for the benefits to be transferred, including that they obviously have to be eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill themselves, but they also have to meet one of the following criteria:

● Has at least six years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval and agrees to serve four additional years in the armed forces from the date of election.
● Has at least 10 years of service in the armed forces (active duty and/or Selected Reserve) on the date of approval, is precluded by either standard policy (by Service Branch or DoD) or statute from committing to four additional years, and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by such policy or statute.

There are also rules that guide the transfer after the transfer occurs, and are important to remember throughout the entire process. First, the spouse is able to begin using the benefit as soon as the transfer has been made. The lack of a waiting period is a nice benefit for families who are hoping to have the spouse graduate as soon as possible. In addition, the spouse can use the benefit while the servicemember is still in active duty, or they can elect to wait until the servicemember has left active duty to begin their education, if desired. Remember that spouses are not eligible for the housing allowance – but only while the servicemember is still on active duty. This is an incentive for some families to wait for the spouse to use the benefits until the servicemember is discharged, because then they are eligible for the housing allowance and the servicemember can continue to work elsewhere.

Remember that spouses may use the benefit for up to 15 years after the servicemember is discharged. While most military families use up the benefits well within that time frame, it’s good to remember that you only have so much time to wait before the benefit will be gone. In the case of a divorce after the benefits have been transferred, the benefits do not instantly become void for the spouse. On the contrary, as long as the active servicemember allows it, the spouse can continue to use the benefit through to depletion. However, the servicemember has the right to revoke the transfer at any time and for any reason.

The VA Fiduciary Program: What Every Veteran Should Know

Whether due to a disability or old age, there could come a time in a veteran’s life (or the life of a non-veteran beneficiary) when handling all of the benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs becomes a challenge.  That’s why the government provides the VA Fiduciary Program.

The program is there to protect veterans and beneficiaries who are unable to manage their VA benefits through the appointment and oversight of a fiduciary. A fiduciary is a trustee who will manage the benefits in the veteran’s behalf.

If a veteran has been determined unable to manage their VA benefits, the VA will conduct a field examination to appoint a fiduciary to assist them.  The VA field examination will be scheduled for the purpose of appointing a fiduciary to assist the veteran in managing their benefits.  During the field examination, the veteran should have certain information available for review by the examiner.  The veteran should provide photo identification, the source and amount of all monthly bills and recurring expenses, any income they receive, a list of all current medications, and the name, phone number, and address for their primary doctor and next of kin.  The veteran should also provide a list of all assets, to include bank accounts, owned property, stocks, bonds, life insurance, burial plans, etc.

After the examination has taken place, and the VA knows all that needs to be taken care of, the selection process for a fiduciary begins.  The veteran can choose or recommend someone to serve as their fiduciary.  During the selection process, the VA will first seek to qualify the individual the veteran chooses to serve.  The fiduciary selection is based on an assessment of the qualifications of the proposed fiduciary.  Some of the individuals that a veteran might consider when seeking a fiduciary could be a spouse or family member, a court-appointed fiduciary, another interested part, or a professional fiduciary.  An assessment of the qualifications of a proposed fiduciary includes, but is not limited to the willingness to serve and abide by all agreements, an interview with a VA representative, credit report review, an inquiry into the criminal background, and interviews with character witnesses.

The determination that the veteran is unable to manage their VA benefits does not affect their veterans non-VA finances, or their right to vote or contract.  They have the right to appeal the VA’s decision finding that they are unable to manage their VA benefits.  The veteran also has the right to appeal VA’s selection of the fiduciary.  If the veteran disagrees with the VA on either of these matters, they may appeal to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals by telling the VA they disagree with the decision that was made and want the Board to review it, or the veteran can give the VA evidence that they do not already have that may lead them to change their decision.

The veteran may also request to have their ability to manage their VA benefits be reevaluated, or to have a new fiduciary appointed, at any time.  If the veteran wishes a reevaluation, they must submit a request in writing with any supporting medical evidence to the Regional Office of jurisdiction.

To begin an appeal of the VA’s decision, the veteran must write a letter to the VA telling them that he or she disagrees with the decision made, and wishes to appeal.  This letter is called the “Notice of Disagreement.” The veteran may also submit any additional evidence in support of their appeal.

When the letter is received, the veterans case will be reviewed, and any additional evidence provided will be considered.  If the VA changes their decision, they will notify the veteran in writing.  If the VA makes no changes in their decision, they will send the veteran a Statement of the Case, which describes the facts, laws, regulations, and reasons the VA used to make their decision.  The VA will also send the veteran a VA Form 9, “Appeal to Board of Veterans’ Appeals,” which must be completed and returned to the VA by the veteran if they still choose to continue their appeal.  Once the Statement is sent to the veteran, they have one year to submit the Form and continue the appeal. After one year, the VA’s decision is final.  If the veteran continues the appeal, it will be brought before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, where you will have the right to a hearing.  After that, whatever decision the Board makes will be final.

 

The Little Known Veterans Pension

Problems with a Veterans Affairs benefit have created a scam industry and left thousands of seniors ignorant of a pension they are entitled to receive, veterans advocates and congressional investigators say.  Many families are unaware of the pension for ailing combat veterans and their dependents, footing the bill for their care as up to $24,239 a year for each veteran sits unused. Advocates blame poor outreach by the Veterans Affairs Department, a massive federal agency that wields $127 billion each year.

Families that do know about the Aid and Attendance pension, sometimes called the widows’ pension, find themselves confronted with daunting paperwork. The applications, once submitted to one of three centralized processing offices, can take more than a year to approve.  Lisa Fitter spent 14 months seeking a pension for her mother-in-law, the widow of a World War II veteran, who suffered a massive stroke in May. The Fitters have struggled to provide 24-hour home care, and they pay an aide $15 to shower her each day.

“There is no excuse when you’re dealing with a 96-year-old woman,” said Fitter, 47, a Wellington Realtor. “She could have died.”

A spokesman for the VA told The New York Times in September that 38,076 veterans and 38,685 spouses were granted an Aid and Attendance pension in 2011. That year 1.7 million World War II veterans were alive and eligible for the pension.

Since December, hundreds of thousands have died, but more Korean War veterans, who number more than 2 million, will become eligible. The issue has particular resonance in Florida, where 187,900 World War II veterans reside, according to Veterans Affairs. The Census reports that about 32,846 Korean and World War II veterans live in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The benefit is a kind of last thank you for low-income veterans — or their spouses or dependent children — who are older than 65 and rely on others for daily care. They must have been a member of the Armed Forces at least one day during wartime and need not have been injured in combat.  On average, veterans received $9,669 in 2011, and their survivors received $6,209, according to a federal report published this year.

Critics have blasted the program from all sides. They say Veterans Affairs does little to advertise the pension in a deliberate attempt to keep the cost down and to relieve backlog.

Meanwhile, state and local veterans officials said they give presentations, set up tables and distribute information through organizations such as the American Legion. The Florida Department of Veterans Affairs distributes a benefits guide — but Aid and Attendance is conspicuously absent from it.

The dearth of education has led to other problems, as well. A parasitic industry of private “pension poachers,” as they’re known, has sprung up in the vacuum of official help.

“There’s no outreach to seniors, and because of that failure, [Veterans Affairs has] allowed a market to be created in partnership with financial advisors and assisted living properties,” said Deborah Burak, a Virginia lobbyist who has railed for pension reform after fighting with Veterans Affairs over benefits for her father.

“They put on huge seminars, and they always do it under the guise of honoring their sacrifice,” she said.

In a May report, the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, counted more than 200 organizations nationally that sell financial products to seniors, ostensibly to help them dump wealth to meet asset restrictions on the pensions. Sometimes they offered annuities that the seniors could never hope to recover in their lifetimes, investigators reported.

U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Tequesta, has introduced legislation that would make it illegal to transfer assets three years before applying for a pension.

While some say this will further complicate an onerous application process, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who introduced the companion bill, said clearing pension poachers from the system will free up time to process legitimate claims.

Piero Pareja, the veterans services officer for Palm Beach County, sees the backlog, though he said some applications are approved in a matter of weeks. He isn’t surprised that millions of bedridden seniors are unaware of the pension, but he encouraged veterans to call his tiny office (three people, including himself), rather than private companies. The Veterans’ Services Office is free and won’t hard sell financial products.

“We can help you,” he said. “We can do 100 percent of the paperwork.”

Pareja’s office did the paperwork for the Fitters, in Wellington. First Fitter and her husband tried to submit the application forms, along with backup documents, themselves. But Veterans Affairs denied their application, requesting more information. So they went to the Veterans’ Service Office.

That was in October. Then just last week, Pearl Fitter was admitted to a local hospital with an infection, as word came from Veterans Affairs. Their claim was approved.

 

VA Benefits History May Forecast Obamacare, Part 2

On April 26, 2012, sixty-seven senators sent a bipartisan plea to President Barack Obama which urged him to end the veteran’s benefits backlog through his “direct and public involvement” in fixing such an incredibly high backlog in disability claims:

After a decade of war, and despite the VA’s efforts to modernize, more than 600,000 veterans are still stuck in the VA’s disability claims backlog. While the average wait time for first time disability claims currently ranges between  316 and 327 days, veterans in certain parts of the country are waiting even longer – 681 days in Reno, 642 in New York, 625 in Pittsburgh, 619 in Los Angeles, 612 in Indianapolis, 586 in Houston, and 510 in Philadelphia. In the worst cases, veterans have waited and continue to wait 800 days, 900 days, and even more than 1000 days for a disability claims decision from the VA.

In the last four years, the number of claims pending for over a year has grown by over 2000%, despite a 40% increase in the VA’s budget. As a reminder, during this same time period, Congress has given VA everything it has asked for in terms of more funding and more employees; however, this has not eliminated the backlog of claims. Solving this problem is critical for veterans of all generations.

In many ways, the President is extremely good at making promises, yet actions usually speak louder than words. As the Washington Times revealed after this Veteran’s Day, the number of pending benefits claims is around 700,000 with an average wait time of 300 days. According to VA public reports, the average wait time for the veteran, or spouse, or any dependent children to receive benefits is 273 days. Conversely, the examination of internal VA data shows veterans who file their first claim have to wait about two more months to between 316 and 327 days, and sadly, for those veterans living in larger metropolitan areas, the wait is nearly two times longer.

This is a horrific tragedy, yet far too few Americans are even aware of this scandal. Obama, the candidate, found it easy to identify the problem, and easy to promise that he would fix the “broken VA bureaucracy.” However, the truth is quite the opposite. Even in last Monday’s Veterans Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery, Obama was again delivering a “have-to-do” mantra:

“We make sure we have the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in the world,” he declared while standing in the “sacred space” of Arlington’s graves.

”We have to devote just as much energy and passion to making sure we have the best-cared for, best-treated, best-respected veterans in the world…”

Such words do make sense to most Americans, yet such words ring hollow in light of the VA ineptitude. The simple truth is that the energy and passion required to solve the VA backlog may involve more than obvious observations in flowery speeches. The Washington Times article provided a startling revelation that:

“In 1997, the VA had about 5,000 field employees, each of whom was able to process about 135 claims per year, according to department budget submissions and Government Accountability Office reports. In 2012, the VA has about three times as many field employees, each accomplishing only about half the work and processing an estimated 73 claims per year.”

In reality, the patriots and families who often depend on such benefits as payments for basic needs are more than mere statistics. These Americans face very real economic problems each day they do not receive their benefits. Reports indicate that some become homeless without their benefits and a substantial support system; some die before they get their benefits. Some have been known to commit suicide out of sheer hopelessness. Mere words do not solve the very real problems of patriots who volunteered to serve this nation in a time of global turmoil. Those who deserve the nation’s gratitude often become trapped in a system of bureaucratic ineptitude.

Ironically, such ineptitude revealed in a local neighborhood medical clinic would probably warrant a government investigation and likely closure of the facility. Unfortunately, the backlog of benefits for the nation’s veterans is more frightening than one may initially realize. Many Americans may not realize that the VA represents the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation. In one way, it can be viewed as a model of a much larger is indeed a tragedy.

The way the Obama Administration has handled the mess involving the largest integrated healthcare system in the nation is indeed a tragedy. Yet, with the advent of Obamacare, citizens within the U.S., in a very short time, may have to deal with many of the same issues that the veterans are being forced to deal with right now.

The fundamental premise of Obamacare is that the federal government is more capable than the private sector in handling the health insurance claims and real medical needs of the nation. Another simplistic recognition of the problem of health insurance and flowery “have-to” speeches are no guarantee that Obama’s Administration is capable of “fixing” the myriad of problems in the way healthcare is administered in the U.S. If the current history of the administration’s efforts at “fixing” the VA backlog is any indication of competency, people in America are in for a long and literally painful ordeal. The problems with the Obamacare website will seem quite rudimentary based upon such an abysmal track record.

 

Veteran Education Benefits Increase, VA Bonuses Decrease

A bill that would expand veterans’ educational benefits and end bonuses for all of the senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs was unanimously passed in the House this last week. The bonuses which are due to be cut would be cut for five years.

Approved on Monday, February 3, the measure was introduced over a year ago by Rep. Jeff Miller, from Florida, and Rep. Mike Michaud, from Maine.  The two representatives head the House Veterans Affairs Committee when they created the bill. It would require all schools eligible for GI Bill benefits, regardless of where those individuals have actually established residence, to give veterans in-state tuition rates, saving the veteran thousands of dollars in tuition.  If, for any reason, the public university would not charge veterans in-state tuition rates, they would have to face a financial penalty.

Originally, Congress intended for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan era to receive free schooling from a public school of their choice.  For the most part, it was successful.  But on occasion, as soon as the veteran returns to normal life, they move into a new state and find that the federal government’s reimbursement to colleges won’t fully cover the higher tuition rates that generally apply to students who come from out of state.

According to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the recently passed legislation has a projected savings of $18 million over the period when bonuses will be eliminated for VA executives.  The elimination of those bonuses is currently set to be during fiscal years 2014 through 2018.

On top of making all GI Bill benefits in-state tuition and taking away bonuses for leaders in the VA, the bill includes other provisions that would extend the VA’s work-study program through 2018 and increase the time frame for veterans to use their vocational rehabilitation benefits from 12 years to 17 years, among other measures.

The representative who led the House floor debate on the legislation, Rep. Mark Takano from California, said last Wednesday that the measure gives lawmakers a chance to help veterans transition out of their military lives.  In a statement Wednesday, he said, “Too often, our veterans have difficulty reintegrating back in civilian life, and Congress should be doing all that it can to make things easier for our heroes.”

Despite a longstanding backlog of disability claims, the VA has been known to and has taken fire for paying large bonuses to its senior officials. On top of that, a federal watchdog report said that the department awarded bonuses to most of its doctors and dentists despite lacking reasonable assurances that the extra pay was linked to performance.  In fact, one of the more well known instances of the VA awarding those who did not do their job was revealed in a CBS report last year.  In the report, it was revealed that the VA awarded $63,000 in performance pay to one of its regional directors shortly after a probe had determined that his medical centers had failed to prevent an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease.

While many agree that the right direction was to cut the bonuses for the VA’s senior staff, as was evidenced by a unanimous vote, the Senior Executives Association has warned of the consequences that could follow with the passing of this bill.  They warned that cutting the bonuses for VA’s top leaders could cause those employees to seek work in the private sector or with other agencies, in which they could potentially earn a higher salary and more money.  The Senior Executives Association’s president, Carol Bonosaro, said in a letter to Miller and Michaud last year that the federal government’s senior executives are by and large hard-working and effective managers who deserve their bonuses.

“To the extent that there are actual instances of senior executives engaging in misconduct or sub-par performance and still receiving awards, it is the rare exception rather than the norm,” Bonosaro said.  She also added that agencies can take action against those who abuse their positions or fail to meet certain expectations.

On Wednesday, the association released a statement saying the hold on bonuses “sends a negative message to VA senior executives that their work is not valued and that the pay-for-performance system is broken; further, it ties the hands of VA leadership, which would be severely limited in its ability to recognize stellar performance.

 

Senator Sander’s Bill That Benefit’s Veterans

Last Wednesday, reporters across the country spoke with Senator Bernie Sanders via teleconference as he described and praised his most recently proposed bill.  The omnibus bill is entitled the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefit and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.  The bill, which was introduced last week to the Senate, would end recent controversial cuts to pensions of military retirees under the age of 62, as well as create numerous other increased benefits for veterans.

“This is one of the most comprehensive pieces of veterans legislation in decades,” said Sanders of the bill. He also touted that the bill was a largely bi-partisan effort of the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs, of which Sanders is currently the chairman. He continued to say, “This bill addresses many of the concerns veterans groups have brought forward, and in a very comprehensive way.”

According to Sanders, hundreds of thousands of service members from Afghanistan have returned to the United States with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or even a traumatic brain injury.  Sanders also points to another example of vets in need with the reports that show that almost three times as many Vietnam veterans took their own lives after returning home than died during the Vietnam War.

“These service members have paid a very high price for their service. We have to do everything possible for them and their families,” Sanders said.

Over a 10 year period, the bill is estimated to cost about $30 billion.  With this cost, the bill would expand the VA healthcare and dental care, in what Sanders called a “cost-effective and equitable way.” Also included in the bill is an extension of the stipends given to caregivers of veterans of post-9/11 wars.  In the extension, the stipend would be offered to caregivers of veterans of other wars as well. “If your teeth are rotting in your mouth, and you can’t get into the system, we’re going to help you with that,” he said.

The legislation in the bill also provides provisions to improve veterans’ healthcare in many different ways.  The legislation would include chiropractic care, increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, and transportation services.  It would also require quarterly reports to congress on efforts to eliminate a backlog of VA benefits claims, expanding access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, and assistance to veterans who are suffering from reproductive issues which are related to the use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“During the last government shutdown, we were a week or 10 days away from disabled veterans not receiving the checks they rely on,” said Sanders. “This is unacceptable, and I don’t think anyone in the Senate wants to see that happen.”

In referring to conversations about the bill with Senator Harry Reid, Sanders said the Senate Majority Leader indicated that he would like the vote to occur as soon as possible, which may be as soon as the next few weeks.  When Sanders was asked about how much support he thought the bill would receive in the Senate, Sanders said, “I think we are going ot have the support of the entire Democratic caucus.”  As of now, Sanders said he has not reached out to his Republican colleagues, but feels confident they will back the bill because many of the provisions in the bill were proposed by Republicans.  “We hope very much that we will have their support,” he said. He adds that several of the provisions did not only come from Republican colleagues, but colleagues in the House.

Sanders hopes to raise the $30 billion needed for the bill by utilizing the Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which was created to fund the War on Terror.  This fund has recently been used to pay for ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The way Sanders sees it, this money has been used to pay for our defense, so it’s only fair that it be used to help pay for those who have been doing the defending, although he noted that, “the final decision of how we fund this is not my own. I believe there is more than enough money [in OCO] to fund this project.”

“These are not just ideas that me or my staff came up with,” said Sanders, “These are ideas that these men and women have been talking about for years.”

 

Veterans Day Discounts and the Companies That Give Back

With Veterans Day just around the corner, we decided to put together the graphic below highlighting some of the many discounts available to our great veterans. Many companies offer special discounts and promotions for veterans on Veterans Day and you can take advantage of these special Veterans Day offers, as well as discounts that can be found throughout the year!

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Veterans Day Discounts from Companies That Give Back by Low VA Rates
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A New Contract to Spread Awareness of Benefits Available To Vets

The Integrated agency Reingold was able to obtain a $13.8 million contract this week from the Department of Veterans Affairs in an effort to raise awareness of the benefits veterans are eligible for after their service. This is all part of a more comprehensive effort from the Department of Veterans Affairs to reach out to the veterans whom some would say they have failed to connect with.

For a very long time now, the Department of Veterans Affairs has noted that many veterans in this country do not take advantage of the different services they have access to. There is a wide variety of reasons why many former servicemen and servicewomen have been reluctant to ask for the help they deserve. For some, it is a lack of awareness,  an unfamiliarity with the systems that house their benefits, the excessive and complicated paperwork involved, or doubting the quality of the care they will receive.

Kevin Miller, a partner and chief operating officer at Reingold said on August 8th,“Only a certain portion of veterans, 40% to 50%, are actually using the benefits they qualify for. This includes not only those just getting out, but those who have been out for years,”

As part of its contract with the VA, the firm is beginning to construct a web portal it hopes will be up and running by February 2014. “Talks are ongoing about whether the educational resource will have a unique web presence or be a subsite on a Veterans Affairs web property,” Miller said.

“There is also a potential social media outreach component to the contract that is being hammered out. One idea being discussed is developing content that partners would be able to disseminate through social media channels to draw attention to VA resources, said Miller. Reingold’s work also includes a strong paid-media component that will target both regional and national audiences.”

Mr Miller is in charge of the entire Reingold team. Together they plan and implement marketing and communications campaigns. His federal government campaigns include this outreach and communications contract on behalf of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, the Homeless Veterans Outreach Initiative where he took charge of building the campaign’s massive collection of more than 2,700 national and grassroots partner organizations. He has also achieved an estimated 713 million audience impressions through earned media, and more than doubled the number of calls to the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans.

A VA spokesperson said via email that “this contract is part of a comprehensive and synchronized VA benefits outreach campaign to expand access to earned care and benefits for eligible veterans, their survivors, and family members.”

The VA is investing this money to provide veterans timely access and use of benefits and services to achieve higher rates of participation in benefits programs.  They state on their website that self-service technology-enabled interactions provide access to information and the ability to execute transactions at the place and time convenient to the client. Some of the services available are obtaining official military documents, generating a Certificate of Eligibility for a VA home loan, or generating a letter verifying Veterans Preference for Federal hiring. The hope is that Reingold will be able to provide these things under the direction of Kevin Miller.

With these types of capabilities, VA will have an opportunity to grant access to VA information and services by enhancing the quality, accuracy, efficiency, and timeliness of information/data exchanges conducted over the Web.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has also posted award documents showing it intends to award Reingold a $2.8 million contract to be able to continue suicide-prevention outreach. The firm has been working with the federal agency on the issue since 2010. Mr Miller has headed up many of the other contracts with the federal government which, before this newest contract, totaled more than 9 million dollars.

The scope of work includes implementing an ongoing outreach plan and designing key metrics to ensure communications materials are achieving intended results. There is also a heavy material development comment, according to the award notice.

The contact also includes funding for regional TV, radio, and out-of-home advertising, as well as digital advertising on social media. Research, planning, and media monitoring services are also a part of the scope of work.

Benefits Expanding for Iraq and Afghan War Vets

The International Association of Interviewers (IAI)made an announcement on Tuesday, August the 13, 2013, that its Certified Forensic Interviewer Certification was given the stamp of approval by the Department of Veteran Affairs as an eligible program for reimbursement via the Federal GI Bill. This is the newest program made available through the bill, among a number of other programs, that includes vocational training and even conventional educational training.

 

As listed from the website of the IAI their main purpose is to “provide educational, business, and networking opportunities to interviewers from all disciplines. The IAI will foster this growth through educational, business and social networking opportunities to engage other thought leaders and to increase members’ core interview skill sets using the latest information from legal, psychological, and practitioners,” which will form the timely transfer of educational information. Having veterans included in this organization, and furthermore participating in their certification will be a great way for them to utilize training that was received in the field, and, more importantly, it will be an immensely effective way for civilian employers to recognize military skills.

 

This is all part of the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Assistance Improvements Act of 2010 which was recently signed into law and has expanded the benefits given to veterans. Many of those benefits now include benefits for actively serving National Guard members as well as all other active service military personnel. The benefits provided in this bill will be available to many veterans and greatly enhance their quality of life. This will be done by aiding them financially as they make the transition from military life to civilian life.

 

“IAI values the contributions of our military personnel and the service they provide to our country,” Wayne Hoover, Vice President of IAI said this Tuesday, “We worked hard with the Department of Veteran Affairs to make available the CFI program so that veterans can make a transition into the interview and interrogation field via the certification.”

 

The Certified Forensic Interviewer designation is one of the only advanced level certifications available for interviewers and interrogators to participate in. It has 15 core competencies in it that are on a wide spectrum that ranges from the legal aspects of an interview and interrogation all the way to the complexity of field interviews. 1,600 of the more than 6,000 members of the IAI earned the certification. This certification is now available to veterans as one of the many educational and vocational programs that are reimbursable to veterans.

 

Melissa Mitchell, who is a Certified Forensic Interviewer and also served as a Sergeant for the United States Air Force, said. “The skill set that military personnel learn and refine in their roles to successfully serve our country is the same skill set that is the foundation for success as a Certified Forensic Interviewer.  Discipline, integrity, attention to detail, ability to execute according to directions, and loyalty to organization are the hallmarks of a good servicemen. Veterans carry the qualities they gained in their service with them as they transition from the military to serving civilian organizations. Having experienced the benefits of that compatible skill set personally in my own civilian career, I have intentionally sought out that same skill set in candidates for my Loss Prevention team knowing that not only will my company benefit, but I am also honoring those who have served our great Nation.” Melissa is currently a director of loss prevention for a christian book store and says that this certification is something that has aided her in her life after active duty.

 

It is important to recognize as a veteran that, to be eligible for the veteran benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill a veteran must be a veteran with 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001. The bill does also include individuals who were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days of service. You must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

 

The bill provides financial support for education and housing to any veterans that fall under the qualifications listed above. This is for a wide array of educational options, which include the certification for forensic interviewers.

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: http://www.va.gov/homeless/housing.asp

You might be surprised at what a little expertise can do for you in the VA home mortgage space.  For example, the experts at lowvarates.com 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.

Get Started With Your VA Loan Today

Veteran Benefits- State of California

Education Benefits

What Education Benefits does the State of California offer Veterans?

The State of California provides a Troops to College academic support program and a Non-Resident College Fee Waiver to Veterans and their families:

Troops to College

The Troops to College program is designed to help Veterans, specifically combatVeterans, transition to civilian life and the college environment. Veterans and their families may enroll in courses taught by a counselor who is also a former combatVeteran about combat stress, post traumatic stress disorders, and other issues affectingVeterans adjusting to civilian life to help them better succeed academically, socially andin their employment.

Troops to College provides the following academic support programs:

  • Veteran-focused tutoring, counseling and mentoring
  • Financial advice and support specific to Veterans
  • Priority registration and admissions for Veterans
  • Academic credit for experiences and courses completed in the military service
  • Student leadership opportunities

 

Non-Resident College Fee Waiver

The State of California offers a Non-Resident College Fee Waiver at its State Colleges and Universities. The following individuals are eligible:

  • A student who is a Veteran of the Armed Forces and was stationed in the State of California on Active Duty for at least one year immediately prior to being dischargedfrom the service
  • An undergraduate student who is currently a member of the Armed Forces stationed inthe State of California on Active Duty
  • An undergraduate student who is a dependent (child or spouse) of a service member currently stationed in the State of California on Active Duty
  • A graduate student who is currently a member of the Armed Forces and is stationed inthe State of California on Active Duty. There is a two-year limit for graduate courses.
  • A graduated student who is a dependent (child or spouse) of a service member currently stationed in the State of California on Active Duty. There is a one-year limit for graduate courses.

 

Does the State of California offer Education Benefits to Veteransʼ Dependents?

Yes. The State of California provides an exemption from mandatory educational andregistration fees and nonresident tuition to eligible Veteransʼs Dependents.

Who is an Eligible Dependent?

An eligible child must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a parent who is a disabled veteran rated 0% or more
  • Earn less than than $11,945 per year (no income limit if Veteran parent has a VArating of 100% as a result of service-connected condition or who died while on ActiveDuty or as a result of a service-related condition)
  • Attend a California Community College or University (undergraduate or graduate levelcourses)
  • Meet in-state residency requirements as determined by the school they attend
  • • Provide proof of relationship to Veteran (copy of a birth or adoption certificate) An eligible spouse must meet the following criteria:
  • Have a spouse who is VA rated at 100% due to service-connected condition or whodied while on Active Duty or as a result of a service-related condition
  • Attend a California Community College or University (undergraduate or graduate levelcourses)
  • Meet in-state residency requirements as determined by the school they attend
  • Provide proof of relationship to Veteran (copy of marriage certificate)

 

Does the State of California offer any Benefits for members of the California Armyor Air National Guard, Naval Militia, or State Military Reserve?

Yes. The California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program (CNEAAP) provides financial awards to qualifying members of the California Army or Air NationalGuard, Naval Militia and State Military Reserve. This assistance can pay for 100% of fees and California Colleges and Universities.

Does the State of California offer a VA Work Study Program?

Yes. Eligible Veterans and their dependents receiving VA education benefits and whoare attending school at a minimum three-quarter rate are eligible to participate in the VAWork Study Program. Through this program, the work-study student is paid at the Stateor Federal minimum rate- whichever is greater. Students may work at a Veteran officeor facility, or other State approved employment office.

What Employment Assistance does the State of California offer?

The State of California offers the following programs to assist Veterans in findingemployment:

Californiaʼs Employment Development Department (EDD)-Californiaʼs EDD assists Veterans in finding suitable employment by partnering with local employment andtraining agencies that help match Veterans and their skill set to appropriate work.Veterans should visit One-Stop Career Centers where they will receive further information and support in gaining interview skills and other employment relatedtraining.

State Employment- State positions requiring a minimum college education AND less than two years of work related experience, eligible Veterans and spouses of Veterans rated 100% for a service connected disability will receive additional points to their entrance examination score. Once a Veteran has attained a permanent civil servicestatus, they will not be allowed future Veteranʼs preference credits.

Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Opportunities- Disabled Veterans who own at least 51% of a business and have a service-connected disability rated at least 10%are eligible to participate in the Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise (DVBE) Program.Under the DVBE Program, the State has a goal of awarding 3% of all State contracts tocertified Veteran-owned businesses.

Unemployment Insurance-Military members who were recently separated or retiredare eligible to apply for unemployment insurance and receive a maximum of 26 weeks in payments, provided they are willing and able to accept a suitable job if offered.Former service members should apply for benefits immediately after separation from active duty service.

Housing Benefits

Are there any Programs in the State of California to help a Veteran Purchase aHome?

Yes. The State of California offers direct loans at highly competitive rates to Veterans who served honorable on Active Duty. Veterans must reside in the State of California and may purchase a home or farm. Information to apply for a loan can be found at tehCalifornia Department of Veterans Affairs Farm and Home Loan Division, or by calling1-800-952-5626.

What Housing for Veterans does the State of California offer?

The State of California offers low cost residential, assisted living and medical care centers throughout the state to disabled or aged Veterans who are residents of California. It also offers transition homes to help Veterans make the transition from military life to home life:

The Pathway Home

The State of California offers a transition center free of charge specifically for the care ofcombat Veterans to help them deal with the effects of combat stress. The Pathway Home is a “therapeutic community focusing on resiliency, recovery, and postdeployment transitions in a safe, respectful, caring, challenging and supportiveenvironment.”

The goal of the Pathway Home is to help Veterans regain their physical, mental,emotional, and spiritual strength, capitalize on their past coping skills, extend their employment opportunities and give and gain support from fellow service men. The Pathway Home is exclusively a menʼs residential recovery program. You can find moreinformation on how to apply for the program by calling their direct 24-hours number at707-948-3026 or visiting their website at www.thepathwayhome.org

Veterans Transition Center

The Veterans Transition Center provides services specific to homeless Veterans andtheir families located exclusively in Monterey County. Not only does the Veterans Transition Center provide a short term solution through its housing, emergency services and individual case management, it aims to provide Veterans with the tools they need tobetter their lives and transition into employable, productive members of their communities. Further information on this program can be found by calling (831) 883-8387 or at www.vtcmonterey.org

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans is a non-profit organization that serves asa national network for local, state and federal agencies that provides comprehensiveresources to Veterans. These services include emergency and supportive housing,food, health services, employment training and placement services, legal aid and casemanagement support. More information on this organization can be found on their website: www.nchv.org

HUD- Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Vouchers

The HUD-VASH program is a combination of the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) rentalassistance program for homeless Veterans and clinical and case management services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These services are provided by the VA at participating VA medical centers and community-based outreach clinics. Moreinformation on the HUD-VASH program can be found at your local U.S. Department ofVeterans Affairs office.

Financial Assistance Benefits

Does the State of California offer Property Tax Exemption for Veterans?

Yes. The State of California offers a property tax exemption for eligible disabled Veterans. An application can be found at: www.boe.ca.gov/proptaxes/assessors.htm.

Who is an eligible Disabled Veteran?

An eligible disabled Veteran must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A wartime Veteran in receipt of a service-connected disability rated at 100%
  • A wartime Veteran with a service-connected disability for loss of, or loss of use of, twoor more limbs
  • A wartime Veteran with a service connected disability for blindness
  • An unmarried surviving spouse of a Veteran who is receiving service-connected deathbenefits

 

What Property Tax Exemptions does the State of California allow?

The State of California allow the following property tax exemptions on the AssessedValue of a Home of Disabled Veterans (amounts are adjusted annually) :

  • Up to $122,128 if total household income is over $54,842 per year
  • Up to $183,193 if total household income is under $54,842 per year

 

Does the State of California offer any discounts on Motor Vehicle Registration toVeterans?

Yes. Medal of Honor Recipients, Former American Prisoners of War and eligibleDisabled Veterans are entitled to the waiver of registrations fees and free license plates for one vehicle weighing less than 8001 pounds.

How do I obtain the Motor Vehicle Registration Waiver?

Medal of Honor recipients need to complete DMV form REG 17A and provide proof oftheir Medal of Honor. Former Prisoners of War (POW) need to complete DMV form REG 17 and provide proof of their POW status. Disabled Veterans need to completeDMV forms REG 195 and REG 256A and obtain a doctorʼs note stating the Veteran hasa service connected disability that substantially impairs their mobility.

Completed applications and supporting documents should be mailed to:

Department of Motor Vehicles

P.O. Box 932345 Sacramento, CA 94232 1-800-777-0133

www.dmv.ca.gov.

Other California State Benefits for Veterans

State Parks and Recreation Passes

War Veterans who are former Prisoners of War, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients or Disabled with a service-connected disability of at least 50% are eligible fora lifetime State of California Parks pass. Veteran must be a California resident.

Fishing and Hunting Licenses

Disabled Veterans rated 50% or more for a service-connected disability are eligible for reduced annual fees for fishing and hunting licenses. To obtain the reduced fee,disabled California Veterans must provide proof of their service-connected disability for the US Department of Veterans Affairs when applying for licenses with the California Department of Fish and Game.

How Obamacare Will Affect Your Veteran’s Benefits

The big question that many veterans are wondering as Obamacare looms closer is the question, “Am I definitely considered covered under my VA benefits plan?” The short answer: “Yes”. But there’s a lot more to that question than a simple yes or no, and a lot more information that can help veterans decide what actions they want to take when 2014 rolls around.

 

The first gray area is how VA benefits will fit in the mix with Medicaid, Obamacare, and privately-provided health insurance. Firstly, it is important to note that veterans who have served in the armed forces who do not qualify to be within the 8 priority groups will not be considered covered under the Affordable Care Act and will need to seek coverage. Those who fall in priority group 8 need to ensure that their income does not exceed the income amount set by the VA. Those thresholds are published by the VA yearly on a national and geographical level.

 

Simply being eligible for VA benefits does not exempt one from having to seek health insurance. In order to be exempt, a veteran must be actively enrolled in the VA benefits program. Being exempt through the VA program can be very beneficial, as the penalty for not being insured in 2014 will be either $285 per family or 1% of annual income, whichever is greater. As of 2016, that penalty will increase exponentially to a maximum of either $2,085 per family or 2.5% of annual income, whichever is greater. To some veterans who do not qualify for VA benefits, facing either that penalty or the cost of monthly insurance premiums can be daunting. The congressional budget office is estimating that approximately 1 out of every 100 Americans will have to pay the penalty.

 

But one factor that may affect many veteran’s decision is that those who are eligible (not necessarily enrolled) for VA benefits will not receive any tax credit to purchase additional insurance to cover the needs of their families, and will not be eligible for subsidized health insurance exchange, though the family members of covered veterans could separate themselves from the VA and seek other insurance through the health exchanges. The important distinction being those who are eligible (not just those who are enrolled). This could in many ways negatively impact veterans, as many veterans opt to purchase additional or different health insurance than is provided by the VA. Many others find the VA benefits to be not a good fit for them or their families.

 

The veterans that will find this arrangement the most difficult to navigate may be the Reserve/Guard veterans, whose VA benefits packages are not nearly as comprehensive as the full-time military. They will need to either use the health insurance provided by their full-time employer or select a private health insurance plan. In regards to this, there is still a gray area that has yet to be cleared up. We know that the large employer mandate is only applicable when the employee has not been offered insurance, and the employee is eligible for subsidies, which, on the face of it, would exclude veterans, however, it is unclear whether there are safeguards in place to ensure fairness to veterans. A hiring manager at a large company who wished to remain anonymous stated that his understanding is that veteran employees cannot be excluded on the basis that they are not eligible for subsidies. A final answer remains to be heard.

 

But probably the largest impact Obamacare will have on veterans is that it will, in the end, most likely cause either the quality of veteran health care to go down or the price to go up. Insurance premiums have gone up for many people already, and will likely continue to do so. These increases are obviously not a part of Obamacare but are the natural reaction of insurance companies who see themselves far less likely to see high profits once the restrictions and regulations kick in 2014.

 

The debate about whether the price increases are Obamacare’s “fault” are ongoing, but as working citizens of the nation, the take-home is that prices are increasing, and more and more people are likely to need to depend on Medicaid or the Obamacare insurance exchanges to get coverage. Administrators have already been caught off guard by the expense of covering the “uninsurable” (individuals with pre-existing conditions). The 5 billion federal dollars set aside to support those people is already running out.  Each and every veteran will need to think carefully to make the best choice for themselves and their family.

What Benefits Does the Military Offer?

This is a question many people ask when considering joining the military. While many people have heard about the benefits that being in the service offers, it can be hard to know for certain what benefits one would receive when they join a branch of the military. Some of the military benefits vary by which branch you are in; the Air Force Reserves will have differences in benefits from the Marine Corps, etc.

 

But for the most part, the benefits are similar across the board. As an active serviceman, you’ll receive competitive pay, and more paid vacation time per year than most similar civilian jobs. When deployed, all of the income the serviceman makes from the military is not taxed, equating to a roughly 20-25% raise, as well as up to $1000 extra per month between FSA (Family separation Allowance), HDP-L (Hardship Duty Pay- Location), HFP (Hostile Fire Pay), and per diem. Granted, there is a good reason the military provides these extra incentives for deployed servicemen. Deployment can be a very trying experience, and there is an inherent risk of death or injury.

 

In addition the the pay and vacation benefits, the military also offers free health care to servicemen and their dependents, free job training (much of which is transferable as college credit), and tuition assistance. Most of the job training you receive in the military is coveted by employers, and will give you a head start in your career if/when you decide to leave the military. The tuition assistance and the GI-Bill are generally very fair and can make college more affordable for those on active duty and those that have already left the military.

 

Whether you’re considering a career in the military or just a few years of service, it is also important to note the very generous life insurance policy that comes as a benefit of being a serviceman. A $400,000 life insurance policy can be selected for only $27/ month which is automatically deducted from your paycheck. In addition to the life insurance, for career servicemen, a fair retirement plan is in place. After 20 years, a serviceman may receive a retirement fund that is equal to 50% of his/her highest pay rate.

 

While benefits are important to consider no matter what decision you’re making, they are far from the only factor involved. Military life can be hard on families, place restrictions on where you live, how long you live there, and even what you do in your spare time. If you’re serious about considering joining the military, an important step will be to speak with a recruiter and find out what you can expect from military life.

Are You Taking Advantage of Your VA Benefits?

Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment

 

What is the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E)?

The Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (VR&E), sometimes referred to

as Voc Rehab or the Chapter 31 program, assists Veterans with service-connected

disabilities rated at least 20% in preparing for, finding and keeping suitable work. If a

Veteran has a disability so severe they cannot consider work in the immediate future,

this program offers services to help them improve their situation and live as

independently as possible.

 

What types of Services does the Program Cover?

 

The VR&E program provides the following services:

• Comprehensive evaluation to assess skills, abilities, and employment interests

• Vocational counseling and establishment of a rehabilitation plan for services

• Work readiness assistance including job training, job-seeking, and resume

development skills

• Assistance in finding and keeping a job, including the use of employer incentives and

special job accommodations

• On the job training, apprenticeships, non-paid work experiences, post-secondary

training at college, technical, vocational or business schools as appropriate to develop necessary skills for employment

• Supportive services including counseling, medical referrals and case management

• Independent living services for Veterans with severe disabilities and unable to work

 

Who is Eligible for the VR&E Program?

 

• Active Duty service members are eligible for the program if they have a memorandum

rating from the VA of 20% or more, are expected to receive an honorable discharge,

and apply for the VR&E program.

• Veterans are eligible for the program if they received a discharge other than

dishonorable, have a service connected disability rating of at least 10% or a

memorandum rating of at least 20% from the VA, and apply for the VR&E program.

 

Does my Eligibility for the Program Expire?

In general, a Veteran is eligible for VR&E services 12 years from the date of their

separation from Active Duty military service or the date they were first notified by the VA

of a service-connected disability rating- whichever is later. If it is determined that a

Veteran has a serious employment handicap, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor

(VRC) can extend their eligibility period.

 

How do I Apply for the Program?

 

If you meet the eligibility criteria, you can get started today by completing VA Form

28-1900 and submitting it to your local VA office or the Department of Veteranʼs Affairs

Veterans On-Line Application VONAPP site.

 

What Happens Once I am Accepted into the Program?

 

Once a Veteranʼs application has been received and eligibility established, they will receive a Comprehensive Evaluation from a VRC to evaluate their aptitudes, interests and abilities and determine whether their service-connected disability impairs their ability to find and/or hold a job using the occupational skills they already possess.

These factors determine whether or not the Veteran is entitled to services. Together the

VRC and Veteran will explore vocational opportunities and establish goals to ensure the a veteran has gainful employment and/ or maximize their independence at home.

 

What Happens after Entitlement is Determined?

 

Once Entitlement is determined, the Veteran and VRC work together to develop a rehabilitation plan after:

• Determining Veteranʼs transferable skills and interests

• Identifying employment and /or independent living options

• Exploring existing job markets, physical demands and wage information

• Narrowing vocational options to suitable employment

• Selecting a VR&E program leading to employment or independent living goal

• Investigating training requirements and resources needed to reach goal

 

What is a Rehabilitation Plan?

 

The rehabilitation plan is an individualized agreement signed by the Veteran and VRC

outlining the services, resources and criteria to be used in achieving the Veteranʼs

employment and/ or independent living goals. Generally, the Veteran will work with their

VRC to select on of the following tracks of services:

• New employment through direct job placement services

• Reemployment with a former employer

• Self-employment

• Employment through long-term services to include on the job training,

apprenticeships, non-paid work experiences, post-secondary training at college,

technical, vocational or business schools

• Services for independent living

 

What Happens Once the Rehabilitation Plan is Established?

 

Once a Veteranʼs rehabilitation plan is developed, their VRC will continue to work with

them to ensure the plan is implemented to reach their goal of suitable employment and/

or independent living. As needed, the Veteranʼs VCR will provide continued assistance

and guidance and coordinate needed services such as tutoring, job-seeking skills,

medical referrals, payment of training allowance (as applicable), and any other services

required to help the Veteran complete the rehabilitation plan and achieve its goal.

 

Is there a Subsistence Allowance while Training?

 

Yes. A Veteranʼs subsistence allowance received monthly is based on the type of

training they are completing, the rate of attendance (part-time or full-time), and the

number of dependents. Current rates can be viewed here: VR&E Subsistence

Allowance Rates.

 

Are there Other Programs Available?

 

Yes. If it is determined the Veteran is not eligible for the VR&E program, other programs

are available. The VRC can help identify the programs most suitable to the Veteranʼs

situation. Some of these programs may include:

• State vocational rehabilitation programs

• Employment programs for disabled Veterans (Department of Labor)

• Services for small business development or employment by local, state or federal

agencies

• Rehabilitation and employment resources through the internet

• Information about eligibility and assistance in applying for financial

VA Loan Officers Give Thanks to Veterans

Being in the mortgage industry for the past 8 years I have come to realize that showing appreciation to your clients is a must. If I were running my own company I would even make it mandatory for VA loan officers. If you think about the process of buying a home it would seem like the Broker holds all the cards, but in reality it’s the Solider or Veteran.

The Loan Officer works for them, not the other way around. At any time during the process of completing the application and closing of escrow, the client – if they want – can find someone else to work with. I don’t want to sound like VA loan officers have no value or bring nothing to the table, its just good to understand what my responsibility is – WHICH IS HELPING THE SOLDIER/VETERAN! Without them I cannot put food on the table, but they can still get a VA loan without me.

I hope that did not sound like a rant, I just want to get the point across of how important the Veteran is.

There are many ways that I can show appreciation for Veterans and Soldiers buying homes. Let me list some of what I have done:

1. Give them the service they deserve. When talking with them on the phone or in person be sure to thank them for their military service. Sometimes address them using their Rank – this shows respect. Be prompt in your timelines and expectations.

2. Offer competitive rates. Be competitive in the marketplace. Veterans and Soldiers will know if you are giving them higher VA interest rates and higher fees. I’m not suggesting doing the loan for free, but don’t “stick it” to them either. Trying to back pedal after you’ve been “caught” offering a bad deal is not a fun situation to be in.

3. Communicate. This is key. The best clients I have are the ones where I talk with them about the process of buying a home. I always try to educate Veterans or Active Military. Before closing explain to them how the final settlement statement looks and if there are any changes regarding rates, fees etc. NEVER DO A BAIT AND SWITCH!

4. Give them something of value. This is not too much to ask. Something simple like a Home Depot gift card or a house warming gift. The most recent purchase I did was here locally in UT. There were some speed bumps along the way to say the least. At the closing table I brought in a gift basket full of over the counter medicine as a joke. I also had some dish towels for the wife. They did not expect this, but they were very grateful because it was going above and beyond the call of duty.

5. Follow up. After the dust settles and your clients have moved in or completed their refinance, call them and ask how they like their new home or lower monthly payments. Send them birthday cards or Holiday cards.

In order to be successful in this business, you must always show your Veteran/ Active military clients that you care and appreciate them. Before you know it they will be sending referrals to you and that’s when you know you have created a business partner for life.

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