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Bush signs bill for Native Veteran Home Loans

WASHINGTON ? Housing loans for Native American veterans will be extended in a bill recently signed into law by President Bush. The wrap-up measure incorporated four separate bills dealing with veterans' education, disability, housing, and burial matters. Included in the legislation was The Native American Veterans Home Loan Act of 2001.

According to the Veterans Administration, nearly 200,000 American Indians have served in the Armed Forces. Indian people have the highest percentage of veterans of any population within the United States. Native people also carry the proud distinction of being the most decorated group in this country's history. Today, many of these veterans who have served are offered the chance to participate in federal programs, including the Native American Veteran Direct Loan Pilot Program.

The program was scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, 2001, but Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi recommended that it be extended until 2005. The reauthorization bill was originally introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and easily made its way through the House and Senate.

While only a small program, the Native American Veterans Housing Loan Program is vital since it provides direct loans to veterans living on trust land. Many times these veterans are unable to secure such loans through local banks or credit unions.

"Ending this successful program would be devastating to a number of Native American veterans who want to take advantage of this important benefit," Udall said. "Without this program, it would be even more difficult for Native Americans living on trust lands to obtain home loan financing."

These loans are available to purchase, construct or improve homes. The principle amount of the loan under this authority is generally limited to $80,000, except in areas where housing costs are significantly higher than costs nationwide. The pilot program began in 1993 and is open to American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians.

Since its establishment, 59 tribes have entered into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU), allowing the Veterans Administration to provide home loans to tribal members who served in the armed forces. Under the new law, the VA is also directed to ease the MOU process to encourage broader participation by tribes and Native veterans.

While the Department of Veteran Affairs does offer home loan programs to all veterans, the unique circumstances of Native American veterans have proven the need for a specialized program. Under the pilot program, unique tribal issues are considered, such as the legalities of working on trust lands or the socio-economic issues of dealing with distressed economic climates.

"Extending the program for another four years will provide more opportunities for additional Native American veterans to benefit from this important VA program," Udall said.