Disabled Veterans May Get Refund

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Inspector General recently issued a report claiming that more than 53,000 disabled veterans may be owed refunds totaling approximately $189 million in home loan fees they were incorrectly charged by the VA. Auditors found it "troubling" that senior Veterans Benefits Administration officials were aware in October, 2014 that thousands of exempt veterans were owed refunds, but didn't take adequate action to issue refunds. The auditors estimated that nearly 73,000 exempt veterans were incorrectly charged an estimated $286 million in funding fees for their VA home loans from 2012 through 2017. During that period, the VA issued about $97 million in refunds to 19,700 of the veterans -- leaving an estimated 53,200 who may be eligible for refunds. Based on a sample of 200 home loans made from 2012-2017, auditors found overcharges that averaged $4,483.

Generally, veterans and service members are required to pay a VA funding fee when they apply for a VA home loan, to defray the VA's cost for administering the loan. However, veterans are exempt from paying a funding fee if they're entitled to receive VA disability compensation. VA funding fees range from 0.5 percent to 3.3 percent of the loan amount. The VA guarantees the loans, which are made through lenders such as banks and credit unions.

The VA Loan Guaranty Service has developed a plan to identify these exempt veterans and to issue the refunds. One issue identified by the Inspector General, and being reviewed by the VA, is how to credit borrowers who, after their loan has closed, were awarded disability compensation with retroactive effective dates, which would have made them eligible for the waiver at the time the loan was given.

In their response to the VA IG, Loan Guaranty Service officials cited other competing priorities: unprecedented growth in the VA home loan program from 2012 through 2017, with parallel increases in phone call volume, requests for VA certificates of eligibility, and appraisals. In 2014, the VA estimated it would take 12 employees devoted full time for one year to complete the refunds. More recent data indicates it would take at least 30 full-time employees more than a year to complete the process, according to the VA.

Veterans who think they may be eligible for a refund should go online or call (877) 827-3702 to request a refund.

Disabled Veterans Eligible for Free Access to National Parks

Veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 10 percent or higher can get free access to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii volcanoes, and hundreds of other national parks across the country – a benefit also available to active duty servicemembers.

Disabled veterans can apply for their pass in person at a participating federal recreation site (PDF) by presenting a photo identification card and documentation proving permanent disability, such as a VA Benefit Summary Letter (also known as an award letter), VA identification with service-connected disability annotation, VA summary of benefits, or receipt of Social Security disability income.

Disabled veterans may also apply by mail by sending documentation and $10 processing fee to the United States Geological Survey, Attn: Access Pass, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225. Documents to include are the Access Pass application form (PDF), proof of residency and one of the following: VA disability award letter, VA summary of benefits, or proof of SSDI income. Passes sent by mail could take 10 to 12 weeks.

The pass for disabled veterans also includes discounts on amenity fees, such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and guided tours.

The VA highlighted the program in a recent blog post.

Active duty members can obtain a free pass for a year, while disabled veterans can apply for a Lifetime National Parks Access Pass through the Department of Interior that gives them access to more than 400 national parks and 2,000 recreation sites.

Active duty servicmembers may apply for a pass at a federal recreation site (PDF) by showing a Common Access Card or Military ID.

SCDMV Veteran Designation

SCDMV offers a “VETERAN” designation on driver licenses, identification cards and beginner permits for individuals who served honorably in the United States Armed Forces. To apply, veterans must present an acceptable document based on the SC Code of Laws 56-1-140 and the standards set by the South Carolina State Office of Veterans' Affairs.

If your military discharge date was AFTER January 1, 1950, you must provide Form DD-214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), which indicates an honorable discharge. No other proof of service will be accepted.

If your military discharge date was BEFORE 1950, you must provide a “Certificate of Discharge” or “Enlisted Separation Paper. Veterans discharged before 1950 will not have a Military Form DD-214 because that form did not exist until January 1, 1950.

Military dependents, spouses or civilian employees on military bases are not eligible.

The cost to add the VETERAN designation to a driver license, identification card or beginner permit is $1.00. If you add the designation without changing or renewing your license, you will pay only the $1.00 fee. However, if you conduct another license transaction, you will pay $1.00 plus the required transaction fee. Each time you change or renew your credential, you must pay an additional $1.00 fee to add the designation.

Because state law requires documentation of military service, veterans applying for the designation must visit a DMV office. To get the best service in the shortest amount of time, DMV recommends that customers visit offices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Customers should also remember that the days before and after a holiday are extremely busy at DMV.