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More than 20 million American veterans have benefited from the Veterans Affairs Guaranteed Home Loan program over the past 70 years, but millions of former and active duty service members are not aware that they can take advantage of the homebuying program.

That’s according to speakers at the recent Regulatory Issues Forum at the 2014 REALTORS® Conference & Expo,where agency administrators joined NAR President Steve Brown and REALTOR® Pete Galbraith, who chaired the forum, to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the VA home loan program, which was first enacted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 as a component of the G.I. Bill.

“As the nation prepares to celebrate our military heroes on Veteran’s Day, it is especially fitting that we are here together now to celebrate 70 years of the VA home loan program. REALTORS® are proud to support this program, which has helped secure more than 20 million mortgages for American veterans and active duty service members,” said Brown, co-owner of Irongate Inc. in Dayton, Ohio.

Holly Petraeus, assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, shared her personal connection to the VA home loan program. She and her husband General David Petraeus bought their first of many homes with a VA loan in 1979 at 6 percent interest, to the envy of their friends. “Over the years, we dealt with many professional and helpful real estate agents. We are grateful to REALTORS® for what they do for military families as they move from place to place,” she said.

Chris Birk, who serves as the director of education for Veterans United Home Loans also thanked NAR for marking this important milestone. “Events like this are incredibly important for spreading awareness about the home loan benefits that military service members have earned. While the number of beneficiaries increased from 130,000 in 2007 to 630,000 last year, there are still about one in three home buying veterans who don’t even know they have this benefit,” he said. “REALTORS® are in a pivotal position to help close the awareness gap simply by asking each of their clients if they had served.”

The VA home loan guarantee offers veterans and active duty service members mortgages without downpayment requirements or private mortgage insurance fees, and they still have the lowest foreclosure rate of any mortgage product offered today.

“Veterans are good to lend to,” said Michael Frueh, the director of the Loan Guaranty Service at the VA. “We are finding ways to partner with lenders, REALTORS®, appraisers and everyone involved in the mortgage process to make it easier to take advantage of this benefit.”

REALTOR® Maura Neill from Atlanta, the lead instructor and subject matter expert for NAR’s Military Relocation Professional certification program, discussed the opportunities REALTORS® have to help armed service members find housing solutions that best meet their needs and allow them to take full advantage of their military benefits. Since the program was launched last May, more than 4,500 REALTORS® have earned the MRP certification.

“The MRP is not just for theREALTORS® who live and work near a military base. With 21.2 million veterans and 1.3 million active duty service members across the country, all REALTORS® have the ability to work with military clients,” said Neill. She estimates that one-third of the MRP course is about the VA home loan program.

The speakers addressed some of the challenges eligible veterans face when using the VA loan program to purchase a home. The sometimes slow appraisal process and limits on fees that veterans can be charged are unnecessary obstacles that the VA is working to resolve.

NAR is working with Congress and the VA to provide more flexibility to veteran borrowers and ensure that they are able to negotiate all reasonable and customary fees as part of the real estate transaction.

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