The beginning of July marked a new chapter in the ongoing Iraq war, as the U.S. withdrew combat troops from the war-torn nation’s cities. The withdrawal is part of a multi-step drawdown of U.S. forces that is expected to culminate in 2011 with the exodus of all American soldiers from Iraq.
In the months ahead, scores of U.S. soldiers will prepare to return home and reestablish their lives. For many returning veterans, adjusting to the financial and social rigors of everyday life can prove a significant challenge. A study released last spring by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department  chronicled the hardships that can confront veterans, from unemployment to low wages.
Soldiers are returning home to an economy in flux, including a severely hardened credit market. Checking credit scores and building a path toward maintaining good credit will likely rank among the chief responsibilities for many. Military agencies and communities across the country offer free financial counseling for active duty servicemen and women and veterans.
Given the state of today’s economy, it’s more important than ever for returning veterans to thoroughly explore the range of benefits, programs and services available. One benefit that’s helped thousands of veterans achieve financial independence – and the dream of home ownership – is the Veteran Administration’s home loan program.
These incredibly cost-efficient loans aren’t just available to older veterans — the waves of young, returning active-duty veterans can also take advantage of VA loans.
VA loans provide a degree of financial flexibility that is unique among home lending options. These loans, backed by the Veterans Administration, allows qualified veterans to finance all of the home’s value and buy without putting a single dollar toward a down payment. That’s exceedingly rare because of the credit crunch and the heavy toll levied on commercial lenders by the lingering recession. Conventional home loans typically require anywhere from 10-20 percent down.
The security afforded by a VA loan provides additional cost savings for veterans. Because the federal government backs VA loans, qualified borrowers don’t have to spend money each month on private mortgage insurance. Interest rates for VA loans are also typically lower than conventional loans.
VA loans have become even more attractive in the last year. The government recently raised the VA loan limit  to $729,000, giving veterans in California, parts of New England and in other more traditionally expensive regions more financial flexibility during the home-buying process. It’s also improvements to the Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) program.
Veterans who already have conventional home loans can also take advantage of the VA to refinance. Eligible veterans can refinance up to 90 percent of the appraised value.
Soldiers preparing to return home from Iraq will face a host of adjustments. The VA loan program can help those who have served our country achieve the dream of home ownership.
Fred Davis is a VA Loan expert who served in the U.S. military. He is a nationally syndicated contributor to mortgage industry publications and military news outlets. You can read more from Mr. Davis at VAMC News  and by following VAMC on Twitter .