“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God,”
– Inscription on the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.
Somewhere in Vietnam lies “Smitty.” I was not yet born when he died but, through my father’s words and story, I know him.
I know his sense of humor; I know about his family; I know that he died there. Smitty has not been laid to rest. He is not somewhere we can go and lay flowers. He was lost in the jungles of Vietnam like countless other soldiers. My father’s memories of the friendship they shared and the battles they fought are alive within my father’s books, The “Without Glory” Series by Ken Smits. In the book, my father describes him as:
“a short guy about five foot-two. He has biscuit-colored hair and an almost invisible mustache. A pair of black-rimmed military glasses with lenses as thick as coke bottles cloak his autumn-leaf brown eyes.”
Smitty was from Florida… Panama City to be exact.
My father lost other friends in the war – 8 on the same non-descript hill on the same day in 1969.
Beatle, Gunner, Frenchie, Tex, Stoney, Stretch, DJ, and Doc they were called. By my father’s descriptions, the nicknames all fit.
I don’t know their real names, but I’m sure they are somewhere on that black Vietnam memorial wall in Washington D.C., among the 57,399 names inscribed there.
Memorial Day for my family is somber and reflective. Military service is part of our family history. My husband served twice in Iraq, once as a Battalion Commander. As military spouses, we stood strong on the home front waiting nervously, anxiously for that crackly phone call on the satellite phone. We stood and cried together at many memorial services – too many. I am blessed that my father made it home and further blessed that my husband made it home from his own battlefield in the desert. Others were not as lucky. I will forever be haunted by the sound of roll call and the 21-gun salute.
So, as we celebrate Memorial Day – I want to personally say Thank You to the families of the fallen. Their loved ones gave the ultimate sacrifice for our Country – but they, too, contributed their unique sacrifice.
Florida Honors its Veterans and Spouses of the Fallen
There can never be enough done for veterans, in Florida as well as elsewhere, there are a host of benefits the State of Florida offers. With regard to real estate, the most popular and well-known benefit is the VA Guaranteed Loan, which allows veterans to utilize their VA Eligibility to obtain a mortgage without a down payment and without paying any private mortgage insurance. There are limits on certain closing costs a veteran can or cannot pay per VA Guidelines. Interest rates on this government-backed loan are often lower than conventional financing loans as well. There is a VA funding fee that is added to the loan – this is less expensive than any private mortgage insurance and a veteran can get the funding fee waived if they have a service-connected disability rating over 10%. Another way to omit or reduce the VA funding fee is to put money down on the home even though it is not required. The more a veteran puts down, the lower the fee. The average VA funding fee is 2.2% of the loan amount.
Veterans who have financed with a conventional loan are able to refinance to a VA Loan thanks to the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2008. This is a great option for a veteran who would like to ‘cash out’ previous down payment on an already financed home.
Veterans are also offered certain tax exemptions. In Florida, if a veteran is 100% service-connected disabled, they are exempt from paying any property tax. For veterans who are 10%-99% service-connected disabled, there is a $5,000 deduction on the assessed value of their home.
For service-connected disabilities, the VA also offers adaptive housing grants to assist a veteran in the purchase or construction of an adapted home. Modification of an existing home can also be included. The common allowable items are those which enable wheelchair mobility.
Other VA Programs that Might Surprise You!
There are other VA programs that are less known to most including VA Renovation Loans, VA Energy Efficiency Loans and VA Refi programs. The VA Renovation Loan is a program which allows a veteran to purchase a home needs updating. Items can be as minor as paint and flooring, or as large as a new roof or bathroom remodel. There is no minimum that can be financed, but the max is $35,000. There are specific requirements for this type of loan and very few lenders do them. The VA Energy Efficiency Loan allows a veteran to roll in the cost of a new energy efficiency item into their initial home loan. Items that can be considered are new air-conditioning systems, new water heaters, or new windows. Other items can be considered as long as it can be shown to reduce the veteran’s monthly expenses enough to offset the additional cost on the loan. The VA Refinance program is offered to veterans who have been the owner on record of their home for at least 240 days. These refinance programs tend to offer lower than market interest rates and no closing cost loans.
Finding the Right Lender and Real Estate Agent for Veteran Home Programs
Just about any lender can do a VA Loan, but it is important to find a lender that has done enough VA Loans to know all of the ins and outs of the VA Loan process, and who is aware of the additional programs offered to veterans in regard to housing.
When choosing an Agent, it is important to gauge their experience with VA loans as well. There are things that need to be addressed from the very beginning of a Veteran’s home search and a VA expert Agent will know what to look for and how to resolve any issues that arise. The Home Solutions Team has proudly served hundreds of veterans and their families throughout the Greater Tampa area. Their expertise allows a veteran to be armed with important knowledge before entering the market.
Home Solutions Real Estate Team