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Witness Testimony of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

Thank you for the opportunity to speak before the Subcommittee on three important pieces of legislation to address the needs of veterans.

Like most Americans, our nation’s heroes see home ownership as an integral part of the American dream.  Unfortunately, for many service members and veterans, that part of the American dream can become a nightmare when coupled with frequent deployments, the high cost of purchasing a home and rising interest rates.

Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers veterans VA-guaranteed loans through common lending institutions, including banks, savings and loan associations and mortgage brokers.  For veterans that qualify, the VA will guarantee a portion of the loan to the lender, thereby protecting the lender for the guarantee amount.

Unfortunately, the current VA loan program is not sufficient to meet the needs of our veterans because, too often, the loan amount is insufficient to purchase a home, does not offer alternatives for veterans with less than perfect credit and does not incorporate younger veterans that may lack the necessary financial track record to prove they are a good risk.

As Chairman of the Committee, I am especially concerned about the affects of the housing market and home foreclosures on our active duty service members and veterans.  These courageous, young men and women should never be forced to worry about their homes, while they are serving overseas and dealing with the intense stresses of deployment.

I have introduced two bills that improve the VA home loam program.  H.R. 4883 will prohibit foreclosure of property owned by a service member for one year following a period of military service. 

The second, H.R. 4884, Helping Our Veterans to Keep Their Homes Act of 2008 will:

  • increase the maximum home loan guarantee amount to $625,500;

  • decrease the equity requirement to refinance a home loan;

  • require the VA Secretary to review and streamline the process of using a guaranteed home loan to purchase a condominium;

  • reduce the home loan funding fees to one percent;

  • extends the adjustable rate mortgage demonstration project to 2018;

  • extend the hybrid adjustable rate mortgage demonstration project to 2012; and

  • provide a yearly adjustment of the VA home loan to match the consumer price index.

Madam Chair, when our service members return home, it is our solemn obligation to protect and serve them with the same commitment and dedication with which they protected and served us.  Both H.R. 4883 and H.R. 4884 would demonstrate just such a level of commitment and I ask for your support.  

Each day members of the National Guard and Reserve serving in support of contingency operations both at home and abroad experience the inequity of educational benefits that exist between members of Active Duty and Reserve Forces.

I also urge you to support H.R. 4889, a bill to recodify Reserve Education Assistance Program entitlements from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Currently, REAP provides up to 36 months of education benefits to certain members of the Reserve Forces, who are called or ordered to active duty service in response to a war or national emergency.

This cost neutral legislation would augment timeliness and quality of receipt of benefits while enabling better support for recruitment and readjustment outcomes, as intended by Congress.  This bill is an important administrative step in establishing readjustment benefits for activated Guard and Reserve members who are subject to the same hardships, and face the same enemy fire, as active duty troops.

As you will hear later today, this legislative proposal is a top priority for most of the veteran service organization, many of which have endorsed my bill.  I urge all my colleagues to join me and these veterans service organizations in supporting our nation’s Reserve Forces by co-sponsoring H.R. 4889.

Again, thank you for including H.R. 4883, H.R. 4884 and H.R. 4889 in today’s Subcommittee hearing.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to address the negative impact the recent subprime foreclosures have had on our veterans and service members and ensure our veterans are afforded the education entitlement they deserve.