While international conflict remains a reality in 2014, many of our country’s service members are finally home after serving their tours of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and other bases across the globe. A homecoming for these heroes is something to be celebrated. Sadly, as we continue to recover from the largest economic downturn in generations, many of our veterans face homelessness, health care complications and high unemployment rates.
As of 2013, there were more than 22 million living veterans in the United States. Even though this figure is expected to decrease somewhat over the next decade, more resources will be needed to help these new waves of returning servicemen and women readjust to civilian life.
A major component of this return to the civilian population will be financial literacy training, including helping our nation’s heroes to be successful homeowners. Homeownership should come with a sense of security and satisfaction, but the home-buying process can appear daunting to many at first glance. This is no different for our veterans, many of whom do not currently have the information they need to navigate what can become a complicated process.
The mortgage finance industry recognizes the importance of our nation’s veterans, the debt we owe them and the major role they play in our economy and the housing market. What’s more, demand for housing is noticeably growing among veterans. As of today, veterans make up approximately 7% of total applications. And, according to HMDA data, the number of VA mortgages for home purchase increased by about 66% from 2008 to 2013.
Real estate finance leaders throughout the country have taken the initiative to help those who have served in the military through a variety of programs including financial counseling, employment opportunities and homeownership assistance. These programs are not only helping former military members to begin new and productive chapters in their lives, but they are also creating growth for our economy by connecting one of our nation’s most important demographics with major financial services.
In order to recognize the efforts of financial institutions that go above and beyond for our nation’s veterans, MBA is championing the Hall of Honor program. This program recognizes both corporations and individual corporate leaders for their commitment to veterans and active-duty military personnel.
Not surprisingly, the scope of these programs is significant.
For example, one company has established the “Tour of Duty Veteran Apprenticeship Program” where veterans are hired for a six-month program to gain private-sector business experience with the opportunity to earn a full-time position within the lending institution after their apprenticeship ends.
Another company has developed a program where they analyze a family’s financial situation and help develop a personalized plan providing financial literacy education on many concepts, including understanding mortgage interest rates and loan terms, as well as the benefits of improving credit, building savings and reinvesting to achieve other goals. In 2013, this program helped more than 6,300 veteran families escape the trap of revolving debt and the anxiety of adjustable-rate loans.
Finally, the Built to Honor program was created to recognize and thank returning military personnel who have been injured during their term of service, by providing mortgage-free homes to veterans and their families. Working in partnership with nonprofit organizations to identify veteran candidates, Built to Honor is supported by hundreds of suppliers and contractors who donate materials and services to build homes for deserving servicemen and servicewomen.
During MBA’s Annual convention next week, five military families will each be awarded mortgage-free homes donated by MBA member companies. This recognition encapsulates the very spirit of the Hall of Honor program, in all its glory.
For those who have answered the call of duty and served our nation honorably, it can be difficult to transition back to a life filled with the day-to-day activities we are so blessed to enjoy, yet too often take for granted. Our veterans have earned our admiration and our support. This is why our industry has been – and continues to be – dedicated to helping the men and women who stand on the frontlines of freedom to keep us safe.