Public voices are growing stronger as veterans’ benefits issues are becoming better known public issues. In addition to veterans’ support groups, chairwoman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, Patty Murray has chastised the VA over its recent reduction in eligibility for caregiver benefits. Her dissatisfaction is with the eligibility requirements which the VA has established along with the new law. These requirements disqualify many of the 3500 families that were predicted to begin receiving benefits when President Obama signed the new caregiver law. Only several hundred are currently eligible. A strong debate has arisen in Congress because of the discontent over the VA’s policy, and while veterans groups are trying to get the VA policy expanded, minimal progress is actually being made in Washington.
With “each day of delay, the strain from the sacrifices [the veterans’ caregivers and families] make, only grows,” said Senator Murray. She speaks of the jobs and other obligations that the families of veterans have given up in order to care for their loved ones.
The atmosphere of public disapproval over current veterans benefits policies is augmented by the recent lawsuits against several banks who were found guilty of overcharging servicemembers and veterans on home loan fees, or increasing mortgage interest rates above the 6% which the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act caps them at. In response, JP Morgan, one of the banks found to have violated the SCRA, has set a cap on military mortgages at 4%. This is only applicable while the military members are on active duty.
While the banks have tried to amend their actions with refunds, updated policies, and abject apologies, lawmakers in Washington and veterans’ groups are not pacified. Instead they believe that this mortgage fiasco is only a small example of the willingness of corporations to make profits by taking advantage of the unique vulnerabilities of military members. When a civilian believes they have been wronged by a company, they are able to file claims, either with that company or in courts. Often when a military member believes the same injustice, they may not have the time off work, or may be deployed. Additionally, under UCMJ (military law) a service member can actually be prosecuted and imprisoned for excessive debts, resulting in service members being more likely to simply eat the extra charges they’ve noticed and try to make the payments instead of bringing the problem, and their debt, into public viewing.
One man who has been tracking the trend with veterans and lenders is Joe Sharp, the economic director for The American Legion, one of the largest veterans’ groups in the country. His observations have shown that the stress created by financial crisis of servicemembers has such a strong impact that some unit commanders are concerned with the deployability of their units. He also adds though, that servicemembers who have turned to the VA to help them with mortgage trouble have fared better. While about one third of those servicemembers are still unable to avoid foreclosure, the VA is able to help the other two thirds by intervening with the lenders. Of all these, the safest group of servicemembers and veterans is the one which used the VA Home Loan program itself. Because there are different precautions and policies, Sharp says VA Loans have the “lowest serious delinquency rate and foreclosure rate for the past two years.”
With these issues compounding in the public eye, more support is being placed with the veterans and their support groups. A response is inevitable, although there isn’t much of a timeline on which to hope for that response.
Photo thanks to James & Vilija under creative common license on Flickr.