You May Be Eligible for a VA Mortgage: Alternative Forms of Eligibility

When most people think of VA mortgages, they assume they’re for the benefit of the families of actively serving members of the various branches of the military. Although military families are certainly eligible for VA mortgages, I wanted to put together a piece about all the other folks who can also get these loans. They’re not just for active military or combat vets, there’s a pretty wide spectrum of people you might not imagine who can take advantage of the money from the VA. Like with any loan program, there’s a lot more to qualifying than simply being eligible, but that’s the focus of this article since VA eligibility can be a pretty significant barrier to entry.

What Does it Mean to be a Vet?

For the purposes of the VA mortgage, the definition of an active duty servicemember or veteran is very specific, but also… complicated. You don’t have to have served in a combat zone, nor do you have had to served during war time. In fact, you don’t have to have left the United States during your service. And, in some cases, you don’t have to have been in the military at all. Wait, what? Give me a chance and I’ll explain. It’ll all become clear.

There are five types of eligibility, I’m going to basically list them here and then I’ll make it more clear later in the article:

  1. Active Duty Servicemember. Meaning someone actively serving in the military right now, with minimum requirements.
  2. Current National Guard or Reserve Member. Members of the National Guard or Reserve during the “Gulf War Period,” starting on 8/2/1990, may be eligible.
  3. Military Veteran. Depending on your service record, the period in which you served and your length of service, you may be able to secure a VA loan.
  4. Surviving Military Spouse. In many cases, surviving military spouses can receive their spouse’s eligibility, even if that spouse was declared missing in action (MIA) or was a prisoner of war (POW).
  5. Others. Most of the “other” people who are still eligible for VA mortgages are quite elderly by now, their eligibility is a form of appreciation for their service to the United States during World War II. Members of other Allied militaries and assisting civilians like merchant seamen from this period are often eligible, along with military cadets and current military supportive officers from groups like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. If you believe you fall into this category, you’ll need to be qualified through your lender or the VA.

VA Eligibility Requirements for Various Groups

So, you know who is sort of eligible. There’s no solid guide on exactly who will always get their eligibility guaranteed and who won’t, it’s quite complicated, but if you ever served in the military, you can check your eligibility here. Military spouses have to send in this form for final determination, since apparently you can’t log in directly to do the same job electronically just yet. All others will need to go through their lender for a final determination (and keep in mind that it could take some time, so plan ahead several months before your purchase).

Activity Duty Servicemember. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, if you’re currently serving in the military and have served for at least 90 days, you’re eligible for a VA loan. Now, if you’re currently laid up in the hospital with a combat-related injury, that still counts, so feel free to call your family and have them get the ball rolling on your behalf. We closed a few VAs from very, very far away (Germany was the one I remember very distinctly) and although nerve-wracking, it can be done.

Current National Guard or Reservist. If your National Guard or Selected Reserve service started after 8/2/1990 (considered the Gulf War Period) and you’ve seen 90 days of active service, meaning you were called to active duty, you’re automatically eligible for the same VA loan benefits as anyone else. However, if you never saw active duty, you’ll need a whopping six years of on-going service or service ending in either honorable discharge, retirement or transfer to the Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve following an honorable service record.

Military Veteran. For anyone who served in the military before 9/8/1980 for enlisted, or 10/17/1981 for officers, it’s fairly simple. More or less, you had to serve 90 days during active wartime or 181 days during peacetime. After that, the 24-month rule comes into effect.

The 24-month rule states that all military vets must serve at least 24 months of active duty to earn their VA eligibility, unless they were discharged with anything other than a dishonorable discharge before that time was up. Military members serving from 9/8/1980 (10/17/1981 for officers) to 8/1/1990 were expected to serve for the full period they were called to active duty, at least 181 days. Members serving after 8/1/1990 were expected to serve for at least 90 days. There are exceptions to these minimum numbers, but unless the soldier or officer was seriously injured in battle, the chance of approval is limited.

PeriodsActive Duty DatesMinimum Active Duty Service Requirements
World War II9/16/1940 – 7/25/194790 total days
Post WWII7/26/1947 – 6/26/1950181 continuous days
Korean War6/27/1950 – 1/31/195590 total days
Post Korean War2/1/1955 – 8/4/1964181 continuous days
Vietnam War8/5/1964 – 5/7/1975

(Note: for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam, the beginning date is 2/28/1961)
90 total days
Post Vietnam War5/8/1975 – 9/7/1980

(Note: the ending date for officers is 10/16/1981)
181 continuous days
24-month Rule9/8/1980 – 8/1/1990

(Note: the beginning date for officers is 10/17/1981)
24 continuous months

The full period for which you were called for active duty, at least 181 days.

Gulf War8/2/1990 – Present24 continuous months

The full period for which you were called for active duty, at least 90 days.

Surviving Military Spouse. There are a few cases where a surviving military spouse will be able to use the deceased spouse’s benefits, but the rules are strict. First, the spouse is almost always required to remain unremarried in order to collect the benefit. Secondly, the military member must have been killed in service, died from a service-connected disability or been declared MIA or a POW. Third, the benefit only applies to servicemembers who would have already been eligible for a VA loan on their own — so, for example, if your spouse was killed during a Reserve training in 1989, you may not qualify for a VA loan since this was before Reservists were being granted the benefit.

The Bottom Line: You Don’t Have to Be Active Military to Be Eligible for a VA Loan

Although most VA-eligible people have served in the military or the Reserve, your eligibility doesn’t disappear just because you’ve left your military service behind you or decided against making the military your career. Your service, whether in peacetime or wartime, as active military or as a Reservist, is highly valued by the United States and your government continues to show its appreciation with benefits like VA loans. These low-cost loans can be a great choice for many home buyers looking to get into their first or second home with little money out of pocket and offer additional benefits that make them viable for long-term mortgages.

Military families should be aware, however, that they can only use their entitlement on one house at a time. If you’ve previously purchased a home with a VA loan, you’ll have to sell it in order to buy another. A back to back closing is acceptable, as long as your lender is aware and can prepare the paperwork for your entitlement restoration in advance. Working with the VA can be slow, so don’t be surprised if your VA loan takes 45 to 60 days to close, or longer if you’re a surviving spouse.

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