WASHINGTON - American Indian veterans are about to get an extension for obtaining housing loans.
The current program, the Native American Veteran Direct Loan Pilot Program, is set to be extended to 2005 under the recommendation of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi, and a house bill introduced by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M. The program was set to expire Dec. 31, 2001.
American Indian veterans who live on tribal trust lands may obtain direct loans from the Department of Veterans Affairs for housing under this program.
"Traditionally, veterans living on tribal land, including allotted lands, have not been eligible for VA home loan guarantees.
"The Native American Veteran Direct Loan Pilot Program has allowed many people who might otherwise have been unable to obtain suitable housing to do just that," Udall said.
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.
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.
While the Department of Veteran Affairs offers 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. Legal issues like working on trust lands or socio-economic issues like dealing with distressed economic climates are considered under the program.
Since the pilot program was established a number of tribes have entered into Memorandums of Understanding, allowing the VA to provide home loans to tribal members who might otherwise be unable to obtain a home loan.
"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.
The bill has been referred to the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Benefits. Once considered and approved by the subcommittee, the bill is expected to pass easily in both the House and Senate.
Information from the VA indicates that nearly 200,000 American Indians have served in the Armed Forces, with American Indian people having the highest percentage of veterans of any population within the United States.
American Indian 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. One of these is the Native American Veteran Direct Loan Pilot Program.