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The VA tells banks not to foreclose on veterans’ homes this year

Veteran Edward O'Connor at his home in Fredericksburg, Va.
Catie Dull
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NPR
Veteran Edward O'Connor at his home in Fredericksburg, Va.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has extended a moratorium on foreclosures for vets with GI Bill home loans. The move gives mortgage companies more time to get a new program up and running to rescue veterans who were facing foreclosure through no fault of their own.

“We’re calling on mortgage servicers to follow a targeted foreclosure moratorium so we can make sure that Veterans get the support they need to stay in their homes,” Under Secretary for Benefits Josh Jacobs said in a statement.

The VA initially asked mortgage companies last year to halt all foreclosures after an NPR investigation revealed that the VA had abruptly ended a key part of a pandemic mortgage relief program, stranding tens of thousands of vets who were still in the middle of it with no affordable way to get current on their home loans. The end-date on that foreclosure moratorium was May 31st. Mortgage companies will now have until the end of 2024 to implement the VA’s new rescue plan — the Veterans Affairs Servicing Purchase (VASP) program. It’s welcome news to veterans stuck in limbo.

“It relieved the pressure off of me that I know I'm not gonna wake up one morning and see a sign outside and see a sheriff at the front door telling me to get the hell out,” said Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran Edward O’Conner.

“But at the same time, I hope that it gives the VA enough time for them to get their head and ass wired together,” O’Conner said in exasperation. “You gotta understand it gets me frustrated.”

Paused payments

After O’Connor’s wife lost her job during the pandemic, the VA told him he could pause mortgage payments on his VA-backed home-loan through what’s called a forbearance. Many vets were told they could simply add the missed payments to the back of their loan after their financial hardship was over. But VA ended that part of the program while thousands of vets were still in forbearance and failed to set up an affordable alternative to let them resume paying.

Suddenly vets like O’Connor got calls demanding all the missed payments at once. He said he’s now more than $61,000 behind and sees VASP as his only way to keep his home. The new six-month moratorium is comforting, but O’Connor says neither his mortgage company nor his contact at the VA can explain to him when VASP will be up and running and whether he will qualify for the help.

Josiah Mena is seen with his family. He said the only way he’ll be able to keep his family of five in their Long Island home is VASP, which he said representatives for his mortgage company tell him they still don’t have up and running yet.
/ Josiah Mena
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Josiah Mena
Josiah Mena is seen with his family. He said the only way he’ll be able to keep his family of five in their Long Island home is VASP, which he said representatives for his mortgage company tell him they still don’t have up and running yet.

“So I'm kind of in the dark right now and it's kind of making me a little bit leery. But the only thing I have faith in is the VA. … It's just that I'm still racking up month after month after month of payments that I'm behind and I'm afraid,” he said.

Many other veterans are worried. “A six-month window, like that's great, but six months is not a lot of time,” said Iraq vet Josiah Mena.

Mena is also watching his debt pile up, with the threat of imminent foreclosure if the VA moratorium ends. He’s been offered alternatives that would involve paying all his arrears at once which he can’t afford; at this point he said that’s $71,000. Or his mortgage company keeps offering him a loan modification at a much higher interest rate that he said would add $1,300 to his monthly payment. Both Mena and O’Conner said they couldn’t afford those much higher-cost options their lenders have been trying to enroll them in. Mena said the only way he’ll be able to keep his family of five in their Long Island home is VASP, which he said representatives for his mortgage company tell him they still don’t have up and running yet.

“And then when I asked them are they gonna in the future? They said we're not sure. ” he said.

Mena said he calls his mortgage company once a week and he’s also in touch with a VA loan adviser. He said the VA rep has been more knowledgeable and encouraging.

“So he just told me to just keep on trucking, and keep on checking in on them,” Mena said.

Copyright 2024 NPR

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.