Native American veterans from Taos Pueblo in New Mexico were pleased by the recent signing of a memorandum of agreement between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Taos tribal government that will allow Native vets to purchase, build or renovate a home on Taos tribal land under the VA’s Native American Direct Home Loan Program.
“This signing was a long time coming,” said Robert Espinosa, a citizen of Taos Pueblo and a U.S. Army veteran who currently serves as War Chief of his pueblo. “This program has been available to other tribes and reservations for several years. It’s finally available to my people here at Taos Pueblo.”
The MOU was signed July 30 at the Taos Pueblo Community Center by Taos Gov. Luis Romero and Mike Frueh, Director of the VA Loan Guaranty program. The VA will now allow eligible Native vets and their spouses the opportunity to use the VA home loan guaranty benefit on federal trust land, including reservation land, through the Native American Direct Home Loan Program (NADL).
Since the end of World War II the VA has had a program to help U.S. military veterans purchase homes. It’s called the VA Home Loan Program. The program has been around since 1944, and has helped over 21 million veterans purchase homes through the VA. But the program has not applied to American Indian veterans living on their tribal lands, which under current U.S. law is labeled as U.S. trust land.
“What we’ve found over the years is that many banks were not willing to lend on federal trust land,” Frueh said. “In 1992 we developed NADL. The program works exactly the same as the VA Home Loan Program except that for Native veterans, or veterans that have a Native American spouse, they can borrow money from the VA to build a house on U.S. trust land.
“We wanted to open the credit to Native veterans on their ancestral homelands, where they grew up. It’s been very effective,” commented Frueh, who added that he was told about 1/3 of Taos Pueblo residents living in the village were U.S. military veterans. “This is the 95th MOU that we’ve negotiated with a federally recognized tribe that has federal trust land.”
Native veterans eligible for VA home loan benefits whose sovereign governments have signed a MOU may now apply directly to VA for a 30-year fixed rate loan to purchase, build, or improve a home located on federal trust land. They may also refinance a direct loan already made under this program to lower their interest rate.
“I personally tried for a VA loan, but since I lived on the reservation, I couldn’t get one – I didn’t qualify,” said Espinosa, who gave the welcoming address at the signing, along with Gov. Romero. “This signing made me very happy. All the veterans (at Taos Pueblo) are going to be able to apply for loans and hopefully qualify and make homes for themselves.”
Veterans Affairs has been aggressive in reaching out to tribal communities over the past several years.
“It’s a program that I haven’t used as much as I want, so (a few) years ago I partnered with the VA Office of Tribal and Government Relations,” said Frueh, who pointed out that over the last three years the VA has guaranteed or loaned more than $20 million to Native American veterans living on tribal reservations.
“Since then we’ve made a concerted effort to reach out to every single tribe with federal trust land. My goal is to have an MOU with every one of the 567 federally recognized tribes so veterans no matter where they live, or where they’re from, can access and keep their benefits to buy a home,” he said.
“They should have been doing this decades ago,” said Espinosa, who is now the Director of the Natural Resource Department, Law Enforcement Branch at Taos. “They should have been coming to tribal governments, to reservations, to Indian country.”
On the same day as the MOU signing, the pueblo held a groundbreaking for the Taos Pueblo Veterans Memorial that will be located at the pueblo entrance off 100 Veterans Highway.
“I think it’s a necessity that should be done here at Taos Pueblo, because people take for granted to live free,” Espinosa said.