Eligibility is different for members of the National Guard and the Reserve than it is for full-time servicemembers or veterans. The good news, though, is that members of the National Guard are still eligible for VA loan benefits, there are just different requirements. For a Guard or Reservist looking to use VA loan benefits, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the options available to you as well as the rules and restrictions to using your VA loan benefits. The VA rules explain exactly what the minimum service requirements are for Guards and Reservists and when you can begin using your benefits. The VA loan benefits do not kick in immediately upon joining up or finishing boot camp. The soldier must meet the minimum service requirements as well as several other requirements in order to be eligible for a VA-guaranteed loan.
These requirements are very different from the requirements for Guards and Reservists. However, they are in the same spirit, which is making sure that those who qualify for the VA loan benefits are those who have contributed to and sacrificed for their country. For a soldier in the Guard or Reserves, the VA expects them to serve for 6 years in order to qualify for VA loan benefits. If the soldier is still serving after 6 years, he or she is fully able to apply for their Certificate of Eligibility, but if the soldier has been discharged or is otherwise no longer serving, there are other requirements.
First, the soldier must have been honorably discharged. Any less-than-honorable discharges will automatically disqualify a veteran of the Guard or Reserve from getting any VA loan benefits. The soldier may also have been placed on the retired list or transferred to the Standby Reserve or Ready Reserve and had their service in the Selected Reserve characterized as honorable. The VA considers it important that the veteran left the Guard or Reserve in good standing in order to qualify for VA loan benefits. The VA has some exceptions in place that cover those who were discharged prior to their six-year mark depending on why they were discharged. For example, if a veteran was discharged from the Guard or Reserve due to circumstances beyond their control, they can apply for eligibility in spite of not having served long enough. From the official VA website: “If you do not meet the minimum service requirements, you may still be eligible if you were discharged due to (1) hardship, (2) the convenience of the government, (3) reduction-in-force, (4) certain medical conditions, or (5) a service-connected disability.”
In more recent days, the “reduction-in-force” qualifier for being discharged can crop up more and more often as budget cuts and many other factors both political and economical have caused the entire military and all of its branches to reduce their forces. For those Guards or Reservists discharged for this reason, they can still apply for eligibility for the VA loan program. While the military will sometimes employ voluntary means of reducing force such as voluntary early retirement and incentives for voluntary separation, there are often only so many ‘voluntary’ methods the military can use to reduce their force, and many servicemembers find themselves being discharged early due to reduction in force.
Exactly what qualifies as “hardship” is foggy at best, but should be explicitly stated in your discharge papers as the reason for discharge. The “convenience of the government” is exactly as it sounds. The really good news is that those who are discharged early due to medical conditions or a service-connected disability can still be eligible for VA loan benefits. If you’re unsure if you can qualify for the VA loan program, contact the VA or a VA-approved lender and give them your information. If you were discharged before your 6-year mark for any of the above reasons, chances are you can qualify.