On Sunday, July 27, I arrived in Alaska at one of its most southern communities, Metlakatla. I had come to Alaska with the goal of expanding awareness of and access to an alternative route for Native America Veterans to use their home loan benefit, the Native American Direct Loan (NADL) Program. The signing ceremony at Metlakatla was significant – it marked the Department of Veterans Affairs’ first NADL partner in the state of Alaska.
During my short but successful trip, in addition to signing a memorandum of understanding with the Metlakatla Indian Community, I joined other VA staff in meeting with other tribal leaders across Alaska, and sharing information on VA benefits and services, including health care, compensation and the VA home loan benefit. During our visit, eight additional tribes signed letters of intent to work with VA’s NADL program – bringing this important benefit closer to even more Veterans living in Alaska. The contacts we made will be vital to the success of VA’s increased presence throughout the state.
VA’s Native American Loan Program is a unique benefit that provides direct home loans to Native American Veterans living on tribal land. The program began in 1992 to help ensure such Veterans could access their VA home loan benefit, because traditional banks hesitated to lend on federal trust land. Under this program, Native American Veterans whose tribes have executed an agreement with VA have more options to use their earned home loan benefit: they can purchase a home using either a conventional loan (their “plain vanilla” VA guaranteed loan benefit) or through a loan that VA makes directly to them.
After meeting with the Metlakatla Indian Community, we traveled by cargo plane, sea plane, and boat, delivering food, provisions and information on benefits to Veterans in Bethel and the native communities of Kwethluk, Akiak, Tuluksak, Toksook Bay, Nunakauyak, Umkumiut, Night Mute and Tununak. This was some of the most remote land I have ever seen, and I was honored that Alaskan Veterans who live almost entirely off the land made the trip to meet with us. There was a strong sense of community in each village we visited and residents were eager to learn more about their VA benefits.
I traveled with Gina Capra, VA’s Director of Rural Health; Susan Yeager, who leads VA’s Alaskan health care services; Verdie Bowen, head of the Alaskan state Department of Veterans Affairs; and members of their staff. We enrolled more than 50 Veterans into the VA Healthcare system during our trip, many of whom were applying for benefits for the first time. Verdie Bowen helped one World War II Veteran apply for his long-overdue National Guard retirement, which will result in a significant retroactive payment to this wonderful man.
Susan Yeager has identified and implemented a remarkable model of partnering with state services, Indian Health Services and National Public Health to provide access and care to Veterans subsisting in some of the most remote places in America.
Another small plane took us to Toksook Bay where we met with tribal leaders from Nightmute, Unikumiut and Tununak. As soon as the word spread that we had arrived, the town hall was flooded with Veterans wanting to know more about the NADL program and to sign up for health benefits. Each Veteran was connected to VA staff members from Alaska who will ensure they receive the benefits they have earned and deserve. After Toksook Bay, we traveled back to Bethel and took part in a stand-down which connected more than 600 Veterans to benefits and services. This was the first stand-down held in Bethel, Alaska.
After this trip, the hard work begins – working with eligible Native American Veterans to purchase, build, or re-finance homes in remote areas of Alaska. We’ll be working closely with all of the partners we met on this trip to turn the letters of intent they signed with VA into direct home loans for Alaska Veterans.
Mike Frueh is the Director of the VA Home Loan program. This program is responsible for helping Veterans obtain mortgages to purchase homes, retain homes when financial difficulties are encountered, and adapt homes to accommodate certain service-connected disabilities. Mike has 20 years of experience in the mortgage industry.