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R. Davis Younts retired from the Air Force and wanted to return home to Central Pennsylvania from Alabama, he knew his decade of honorable service would help him and his family in their search for a home.

As the country prepares to honor the nation's veterans on Monday for their service, those who work with vets say it's important for them to know about a program that can help them ease their return to civilian life: the VA Home Loan Program.

"I was familiar with the program, but I didn't know all the particulars and how much it would help,'' said Younts, whose family in September closed on a four-bedroom home in the 700 block of Sand Hill Road in Hershey for 8,000 more house than they could have afforded without the assistance.

Under the program, enacted toward the end of World War II, honorably discharged veterans and reservists who serve at least six years can use a regular lender to buy a home with no money down and avoid paying almost all closing costs and fees. Spouses of those killed in a service-related death can also use the program.

As an attorney in the Air Force, Younts moved five different times over his career not allowing him the opportunity to build up equity in a home. Younts, who has two young daughters with his wife, Elizabeth, now works at an attorney with the Pennsylvania National Guard.

"The fact that we can build equity and own property and not pay rent, to me that's very significant,'' said Younts, who graduated from Penn State's Dickinson school of Law in 2002 and was motivated by the Sept. 11 attack to immediately join the military.

"I really think that only the GI Bill for education can be considered a better benefit for veteran's than the loan program,'' said Greg Rothman, president and CEO of Lemoyne-based and a 10-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve. The company issued a press release about the just-concluded deal to highlight the VA loan program for Veteran's Day.

Rothman, who helped the Younts find their home, said it's no secret that especially for first-time buyers, having enough cash is a big hurdle. For example, conventional financing on a 0,000 home requires 5 percent down and 5 percent for closing costs -- ,000.

Rothman's passion for real estate as well as wanting to serve his country led him to be appointed by President George W. Bush to the National Veteran's Business Development Corporation to help vets transition to civilian life. The appointment came after Bush heard that Rothman would come in early for training on Fridays so he could leave early on Sundays to host Open Houses.

"One of the first VA homes I sold was to a couple who initially called about renting and I asked if they had considered buying and they said they didn't think they had enough savings,'' Rothman said. "I asked if they were veterans and the husband answered he was in the Navy for six years. I was able to get them a great home in New Cumberland.''

Nationally, almost 326,000 homes were bought by vets using the program in 2009, the latest statistics available from the U.S. Department of Affairs. In Pennsylvania, the benefit was used to back 6,283 purchases.

"[The VA Loan program] arose because of the feeling that veterans in view of their service in the armed forces had missed an opportunity to establish a credit rating which could be the basis of borrowing to acquire a home or establish a business,'' according to a VA report. "The establishment of the loan guaranty program was an attempt to place the veteran on part with his/her nonveteran counterpart.''

Angela Shaw, senior loan adviser with Camp Hill-based Susquehanna Lending Group and who handled the Younts' financing, said another benefit of the program is that for those who need it, the credit requirements are not as stringent. Veterans can qualify with a credit score of 640, as opposed to the minimum 720 credit score that is usually required, she said.

The interest rate is also lower than for conventional loans. Younts, who secured a 4.2 percent interest rate when he closed, said rates on conventional loans at the time were in the 4.7 range: "It was about .5 percent lower; that's a significant difference.

Earlier this week, buyers with the VA program could lock in a 3.75 percent rate for a 30-year mortgage as opposed to the 4.25 percent being offered on conventional 30-year loans, Shaw said.

"I have a personal interest in helping veterans,'' said Shaw, who frequently holds seminars about the program with Rothman. "My grandfather was a paratrooper in World War II and my cousin was a Marine who served two tours in Iraq.''

Younts, who lived in Lancaster for most of his young life, said he always planned to return to the midstate. He said working with Rothman, a fellow veteran, made the search for the right house a great experience.

"I think the [VA loan benefit] is huge because a vast majority of military members have no equity because they are overseas, living on bases or renting because they have to move frequently,'' Younts said. "A lot of veterans wouldn't be able to afford a house when they leave active duty without this benefit.''

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