Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan *But Were Afraid To Ask

Ok, so this is not a comprehensive FAQ piece on the G.I. Bill or VA Home Loan, as the name might suggest (who am I kidding? That reference is so old at this point, I'm not even sure why I'm using it!). But I do want to share some thoughts on the subject of two of the military's (apparently) best benefits - the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan. After all, those are two of the biggest incentives and motivators for many young people to join the military.

The road from service to student and homeowner can be a rough one, even with the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan. Here I am on the Coronado Bridge, working for Navy Band Southwest in San Diego, CA. 

The road from service to student and homeowner can be a rough one, even with the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan. Here I am on the Coronado Bridge, working for Navy Band Southwest in San Diego, CA. 

The reasons I myself proudly signed on the dotted line for the United States Navy were similar to many of my shipmates and friends I would meet later. While I was excited to serve my country doing one of the things I do best (playing drums), there were also more practical, and well...selfish reasons for joining. A steady paycheck,  a sense of purpose, and the VA Home Loan and G.I. Bill were real motivators for me to join. Truth be told, I would have served anyway, but I can't deny that it was exciting knowing further education, and perhaps my first home, were on the horizon.

Two years and two letters to Congress later, here I am after receiving my master's degree and professional writing certificate from San Diego State University.

Two years and two letters to Congress later, here I am after receiving my master's degree and professional writing certificate from San Diego State University.

Please note I did not write "free education" in the previous paragraph. I have friends who have put their lives on the line in Afghanistan, only to be told later by those who had never served that they were so "lucky" to have the G.I. Bill. I assure you, the courageous women and men who have served our country in uniform are privileged to do so, but not lucky. The benefits of the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan are absolutely ones that have been earned by our service members. 

But can our Veterans actually use benefits like the G.I. Bill and VA Home Loan? It seems especially pertinent to ask this question today, as we see reform measures of a troubled VA move sluggishly move through Congress. In this Veteran's experience, I can share that the VA Home Loan is exceptionally difficult to use here in the competitive real estate market of my hometown, San Diego. Though not exceptionally picky in my search for a home, I found myself competing with up to 25 would-be buyers within the first week of a home's listing. The VA Home Loan is designed to protect the Veteran/service member, but its stipulations are often so stringent and costly to the seller, that those offers are not even considered. In competitive markets, there are usually plenty of cash, conventional, or FHA offers that will almost always beat out the VA bidder.

Similarly, the G.I. Bill can be an unwieldy obstacle when the Veteran tries to actually use it. Again, in my experience, I had significant payment delays (months, at times), which led to my appeals to Congressional representatives, countless phone calls and meetings, and a whole lot of stress. I realize that dealing with bureaucracies can be trying for anyone, but it is dumbfounding to me -and many other Veterans-- that this and other benefits can be so difficult to use. I often found myself not only navigating the bureaucracy of the state school, but also that of the VA. The truth is that legislators and community bigwigs (even those who are Veterans) most likely never have to use these kind of benefits, occupying a completely different socio-economic bracket than the vast majority of American Veterans trying to use these kind of benefits. I suspect that many proposals are designed first and foremost to look good on paper, with little concern regarding the actual execution of these programs, benefits, and so on.

Why am I writing about this? My intention is not to complain or point fingers, but rather contribute to a larger conversation, giving a humble insider's view. I have had the wonderful experience of receiving a master's degree and professional writing certificate at San Diego State University (go Aztecs!) by using my G.I. Bill. Thanks to the G.I. Bill and SDSU, I have met colleagues and friends I will know, and with whom I hope to collaborate, for the remainder of my life. I also bought a home, though not with the VA Home Loan. After several unsuccessful bids, I adjusted my strategy, and ultimately found a wonderful first home in the City Heights neighborhood of Oak Park, aided by an FHA loan. 

I am certain there are a myriad of experiences and stories related to these benefits. I know Veterans who have had an easier time using them, as well as Veterans who have had a more difficult experience than I have. As more and more of our brave women and men leave active duty and return to civilian life, I hope that we continue to monitor these opportunities so that we can most effectively help those who have helped us.