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More than 200 Montana veterans have been overcharged in a nationwide U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Home Loan billing scandal.

Veterans nationwide were charged $286 million too much under the low-interest, no down payment home loan program managed by the VA. The victims, numbering 72,900, are disabled veterans exempt from paying the fees. In Montana, there were 263 veterans charged who shouldn't have been.

The fees range from 0.5 to 3.3 percent of a loan's amount. The wrongful overcharges were revealed in a June 6 report from the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. On average, veterans who were overcharged paid $4,483, but on the high end were people wrongfully billed more than $19,000.

The investigation revealed that Veterans Affairs knew about $150 million in overbilling at least five years ago, but the practice continued. Whistleblowers at a VA regional loan center in St. Paul, Minn., shared that information with local media in 2014.  

Friday, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and other members of veterans committees in the House and Senate wrote VA Secretary Robert Wilkie asking if the VA planned to repay veterans the $286 million.

The VA “was aware since October 2014 that thousands of exempt veterans may have been charged home loan funding fees,” which the OIG noted as ‘troubling,’” the lawmakers said in the letter to Wilkie. “The OIG also found ‘disturbing’ that as of January of this year, the Department had not acted to issue refunds for the erroneously collected funding fees.”

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For many veterans, fees are part of the VA home loan prices, paid up front, or rolled into the loans, to cover the VA’s cost of administering the program. During five years ending in 2017, veterans paid $9.78 billion in home loan fees. But veterans with service-related disabilities, who qualify for disability compensation, don’t have to pay loan fees. The whole point of the investigation, according to the VA Office of Inspector General, was to make sure the Veterans Benefits Administration was protecting disabled veterans from the fees.

There has always been a way for banks and veteran borrowers to object to the fees wrongfully collected by Veterans Affairs, which can credit the the fees back to help pay down a loan. The investigation didn't reveal how many objections were made by veterans and banks.

In 2018 in Montana, there were 2,826 VA home loans totalling nearly $709 million, according to Veterans Affairs data. 

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