Military VA Loan Programs & Housing Assistance

Written by: Maureen Milliken

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There are a variety of programs that provide housing assistance for both active-duty military and veterans. Military and veteran housing assistance not only helps those who are serving or have served buy, build, renovate and maintain a home, but also helps with rent, moving and other costs.

VA and other federal programs also provide financial assistance to disabled veterans for home improvements to allow accessibility.

There are even programs to ensure military families have secure housing if their active-duty member is deployed overseas. Active-duty military and veterans housing assistance comes not only in the form of loans, but also grants and specific help targeted for certain challenges.

Department of Veterans Affairs Housing Programs

VA housing assistance and VA home loan benefits allow veterans and active-duty military members to buy, build or renovate a home, or refinance a mortgage.

VA Home Loans

The VA Home Loan program offers both direct loans through the VA and also backs loans provided by private lenders. VA home loan benefits don’t just cover buying a home, they can also be used by active-duty military, veterans, and their families to build a home, improve one, refinance a mortgage and even buy a second home

VA home loans are similar to FHA loans in that they are both backed by the federal government, but VA loans offer more attractive terms and are only available to military families (learn the difference between VA and FHA Loans). VA loans also offer much better terms than traditional loans from a private bank, mortgage company, or credit union, and nearly 90% of VA-backed loans are made with no down payment. While there is no minimum credit score required for VA home loans, lenders have their own requirements and borrowers will have to meet certain income and credit requirements in order to qualify.

VA home loans include:

  • Purchase Loan – a mortgage loan to buy a home.
  • Native American Direct Loan (NADL) – Provided directly through the VA, the NADL is for veterans who are Native American or have a spouse who is. The program is for buying, building or improving a home on federal trust land. It can also be used to refinance an NADL.
  • Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loan (IRRRL) – For borrowers who already have a VA home loan, an IRRRL allows them to refinance for a lower interest rate, saving money both on monthly payments and the overall term of the loan.
  • Cash-Out Refinance Loan – For borrowers who already have a VA home loan, who have equity in their home, refinancing their VA loan allows them to use some of the equity to get extra cash for debt consolidation, home improvement or other needs.

» Learn More: Compare VA Loans vs. USDA Loans

Disability Housing Grants

Active-duty military and veterans who have service-connected disabilities can get grants from the VA to buy or renovate their homes to accommodate their needs and live more independently. Some of the grants are general, some are aimed at specific needs or disabilities. A grant is money that does not have to be repaid.

Specially Adapted Housing Grant (SAH): The SAH program provides grants to military service members and veterans who have certain severe service-connected disabilities that make modifications for mobility, like wheelchair accessibility, necessary. The grants can be used to build, remodel or buy an adapted home that allows barrier-free living. The maximum grant amount adjusts annually – in 2022 it was $101,754. The grant money must be used to build or adapt a home to meet the adaptive needs of the veteran or service member receiving the grant.
The recipients must:

  • Own the home or have it built, and it must be for their long-term residence.
  • Have a qualifying service-connected disability, defined as:
    • Loss or loss of use of more than one limb
    • Loss or loss of use of a lower leg along with lasting effects of an organic (natural) disease or injury
    • Blindness in both eyes (with 20/200 visual acuity or less)
    • Certain severe burns
    • Loss or loss of use of one lower extremity (foot or leg) after 11, 2001, with braces, crutches, canes or a wheelchair needed to walk or balance.

Grants for those who have lost one extremity after Sept. 11, 2001, are limited to 120 veterans and service members each fiscal year, which runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Those who qualify but don’t get a grant in the current fiscal year because of the cap can apply again in future years.

Special Home Adaptation (SHA) Grant: Like the SAH, the SHA is for the long-term residence of the veteran or service member. The money must be used to build or renovate a home to accommodate disabilities other than the mobility challenges covered by the SAH – SHA adaptations are for loss of use of hands, blindness and respiratory disability. The money must be used to adapt the home for the disability, or, if building a home, the disability accessibility features. The maximum amount per grantee is adjusted yearly. In fiscal year 2022, it was $20,387.

Requirements are:

  • The veteran or a family member must or will own the home.
  • The veteran or service members has a qualifying service-connected disability, defined as:
    • Loss of, or loss of use of, both hands
    • Certain severe burns
    • Certain respiratory or breathing injuries.

Home Improvement and Structural Alteration (HISA) grants: Unlike SAH and SHA grants, the veteran’s disability does not have to be service-related to qualify, though those with service-related disabilities are eligible for higher amounts. HISA grants provide financial assistance to make modifications to improve access and mobility, particularly in the bathroom. It pays for things like handrails, ramps, electrical outlet installation to power medical equipment, widening doorways, lowering counters, roll-in showers and more. The limits for the grant, which haven’t been changed since 2010, are $6,800 lifetime for an applicant with service-related disability or a disability rated at least 50% service-connected, and $2,000 lifetime for others.

Department of Defense Housing Programs

The Department of Defense has several options for a military housing allowance, which help service members and their families pay for housing and associated costs, whether the service member is deployed elsewhere or not. The Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is the most common military housing allowance, providing a housing stipend based on military rank (pay grade), marital status, size of family and location. For service members and families who are deployed overseas or geographically separated for other reasons, there is the Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA), Family Separation Allowance (FSA) and Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA).

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Every active-duty member of the military stationed in the U.S. gets Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), with the amount based on military rank (pay grade), marital status and family size. BAH amount is also based on location, adjusted for the housing costs in the area. It can pay for housing either on base or off. On base, the money goes directly to the property manager (usually a private company). Those who live off base are given their BAH monthly, and they can pocket anything left over. But they are responsible for paying utilities, maintenance and whatever other costs come up.

Overseas Housing Allowance (OHA)

The OHA helps offset the cost of off-base housing for service members deployed outside the continental United States. Like the BAH, the amount is based on rank and family size. It pays for rent, move-in costs, utilities and maintenance. Service members who aren’t accompanied by family can only take advantage of OHA if Department of Defense housing isn’t available. Service members who have a family that’s still in the U.S. also get the BAH for their family’s U.S. quarters.

Family Separation Allowance (FSA)

The FSA provides financial support for added expenses caused by family separation that’s unavoidable. It’s a $250 (in 2022) flat monthly fee, regardless of rank or family size. The FSA has specific instances when it’s paid, including:

  • Transportation at government expense to the new location isn’t authorized for dependents.
  • Transportation is authorized, but the dependent can’t accompany the military member to the duty station for medical reasons.
  • The service member is stationed aboard a ship that’s away from home port for more than 30 days at a time.
  • The service member is on temporary duty (TDY) away from the permanent station for more than 30 days at a time, and their dependents don’t live near the TDY station.
  • Dependents are evacuated from a danger area to temporary safe haven government quarters.

Move-In Housing Allowance (MIHA)

The MIHA is a one-time payment for those stationed outside the continental United States and helps cover the cost of miscellaneous moving expenses that include things like appliances, lease taxes, one-time rent-related expenses or security. The amount varies by currency rate and location.

Housing Options

The variety of military housing assistance for veterans and service members is aimed at making sure those who have served, or are serving, and their families can afford to live in a safe and appropriate way. This includes both providing housing and making sure that non-government options are affordable to military members and veterans.

Housing assistance for veterans.

The VA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development partner on the VA Supportive Housing program, which helps veterans who are homeless and their families find and sustain permanent housing. HUD provides rental assistance vouchers for privately owned housing for the program, which also connects veterans with support resources for health and mental health care, substance abuse counseling and more.

The VA also has several housing programs that provide grants and loans that allow veterans to buy, build and maintain housing, as well as make accommodations for disabilities, as discussed earlier in this article.

Active-duty military housing assistance

Active-duty service members are provided a variety of options for housing, both on military bases and off, as well as money to pay for it.

  • Government-owned military base housing: Only a fraction of the military housing in the U.S. is still owned and operated by the Department of Defense, though housing on overseas bases is still all federally owned. Those who live in military housing don’t pay rent (their BAH military housing assistance goes directly to cover it), and basic utilities and maintenance are covered.
  • Privatized military base housing: The majority of on-base military housing in the U.S. is owned by private developers, who also manage the property. Like government-owned military base housing, rent and a portion or all of basic utilities and maintenance are covered by the BAH, which goes directly to the private company. Quality of housing varies from base to base, and housing is assigned based on family size, with no flexibility to choose your own quarters.
  • Single or unaccompanied military base housing: Often referred to as “the barracks,” this is dormitory-style housing for single members of the military of low rank. Amenities depend on the base – for instance, sometimes there’s a private bathroom, sometimes a shared one. The BAH covers all aspects of the housing as well as meals in the “chow hall.”
  • Renting a home off base: Military families are free to live off base, which gives them more options for a home. They are responsible for rent, utilities, and other expenses, which may end up being more than the BAH covers. Those who choose to life off base should make sure before signing a lease that they can get out of it if they are reassigned or deployed.
  • Buying a house: This allows freedom to select the size, location and amenities, as well as being an investment (unlike renting), but those who do it should have a plan for selling or renting quickly when their next PCS is issued.

There is a lot to consider when deciding whether to live on or off base, particularly when a family is involved. Medical care, schools, housing inventory in the area, quality of the base housing and more all play a part. Military families should consider the pros and cons of living on or off base carefully before making a decision.

About The Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has been writing about finance, banking, investment, entrepreneurship, real estate and other related topics for more than 30 years. She started as the “Business Beat” columnist for the now-defunct Haverhill (Mass.) Gazette and currently is one of the hosts of the Mainebiz business-focused podcast, “The Day that Changed Everything” in addition to her daily writing. She also is is the author of three mystery novels and two nonfiction books.


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