Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Disabled vets hit hard by home foreclosures

From the intro to a story in the Kansas City Star:

It was always hard for him to make the house payment.

James Wilson, (pictured) a disabled veteran of the Iraq War, knows his monthly mortgage payment of $532 doesn’t sound like much. But living on a fixed income with a family to support caused difficulties he had not anticipated.

Now he is more than three months behind on his mortgage.

“I’m still working with the lender,” Wilson, 30, said. “They’re friendly, but they want their money.”

Wilson, who survived an ambush and separate car and truck explosions in Iraq, joins other veterans who have found themselves caught in the mortgage crisis.

Although solid numbers on veteran foreclosures are not available, RealtyTrac, a Web site that follows foreclosures nationwide, reported earlier this year that areas with large numbers of military personnel have foreclosures at a rate four times the national average.

For some of the veterans, like Wilson, disability is a major factor. But even veterans without disabilities are having trouble for a variety of reasons: unemployment and repeated calls to duty, frequent relocations that limit the chance to build equity, and low pay for active service members.

Additionally, many military families were targeted by subprime mortgage sellers that opened offices near bases, leaving the families paying higher interest rates and more loan fees.

“They either can’t make a rent payment or mortgage payment, or they’re losing their car, or at least the threat is there,” said Shari Grewe, a transition patient advocate at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. She deals with about 35 veterans a day who are having trouble making payments, among other problems.

Like Wilson, Vietnam-era veteran Terry Wright, 57, worries he will lose his house. He receives $894 a month in VA disability payments. He’s about $1,500 behind on his Kansas City house, he said. He comes up short every month because of the increased prices of gas and food.

“I owe so much money I barely have my eyes above water,” Wright said.

Problems arise when an unexpected difficulty breaks an already thin budget, Grewe said.

“Something comes up and they can’t do it,” she said. “They lose a job or can’t get work in the first place. Maybe when they get out, they can’t do the same job they did before. What they were able to live on six months ago doesn’t buy the same things today.”

Judith Epperson, homeless coordinator at the Robert J. Dole VA Medical Center in Wichita, sees on average three veterans a day who are having problems with mortgage or rent payments. She attributes most of their difficulties to job loss, caused in part by post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of them joined the armed services in 1990 or later.

“Since the spring, we’re seeing a lot more veterans in this situation,” Epperson said. “A lot more females. A lot have kids. I had one pregnant veteran with two kids. She was let go at her job and had nothing and lost her house.”