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VA halts foreclosures for thousands of veterans about to needlessly lose their homes

Charles Dharapak
/
AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs is halting foreclosures for 6 months for veterans and servicemembers who have VA Loans.

The move follows an investigation by NPR that found thousands of veterans who took what's called a COVID forbearance are now at risk of losing their homes through no fault of their own.

"Helping Veterans and their families stay in their homes is a top priority at VA," said VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes in a statement. "We are calling on mortgage servicers to pause foreclosures of VA-guaranteed loans through May 31, 2024."

The forbearance program was set up by Congress after the pandemic hit in order to let people who suffered a loss of income skip mortgage payments for six or 12 months, and then have an affordable way to start paying their mortgage again.

But in October 2022, the VA ended the part of the program that allowed homeowners an affordable way to get current on their loans again, which has left many veterans facing foreclosure. The VA has a new program to replace it, but says it will take four or five months to implement.

That's too late to help many of the 6,000 people with VA loans who had COVID forbearances and are currently in the foreclosure process. 34,000 more are delinquent, according to the data firm ICE Mortgage Technology.

After NPR first reported on the problem, a group of senators sent a letter to the VA asking them to immediately stop the foreclosures.

"Without this pause, thousands of veterans and servicemembers could needlessly lose their homes," Sens. Sherrod Brown, Jon Tester, Jack Reed and Tim Kaine, all Democrats, wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. "This was never the intent of Congress."

The VA said in its statement that by pausing foreclosures "we can continue assisting Veterans with their loans while we launch our newest home retention option." Through the new program, the VA says it will basically purchase the loans back from the companies that currently hold them, modify them and then hold them within a VA-owned loan portfolio.

"This will empower us to work with Veterans experiencing severe financial hardship to adjust their loans – and their monthly payments – so they can keep their homes," Hayes said in a statement

The VA's Under Secretary for Benefits Josh Jacobs said in a separate statement that he encourages any Veteran who is struggling with making their payments to visit www.va.gov/housing-assistance or call 877-827-3702.

"We at VA will do everything in our power to help Veterans stay in their homes" Jacobs said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR correspondent Chris Arnold is based in Boston. His reports are heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He joined NPR in 1996 and was based in San Francisco before moving to Boston in 2001.
Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.