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VA may owe veterans millions in refunds on home loans fees

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More than 50,000 disabled veterans could be owed as much as $190 million in refunds from the Department of Veterans Affairs for home loan fees they were wrongly charged or no longer owe, an investigation has found.

Senior leaders knew about the problem for years but didn’t ensure veterans received what they are due, the investigation by the VA inspector general found. 

Veterans pay the fees when they buy homes with the help of VA’s Home Loan Guaranty Program, but they are supposed to be exempt if they are disabled. Fees can total up to 3.3% of a home’s value. 

But the VA didn’t do that in thousands of cases dating back more than a decade because the veterans didn’t ask for the refunds.

VA loan managers, who knew about outstanding debts to veterans since at least 2014, told investigators that they had been focused on other priorities, including processing high volumes of applications.

Investigators from the inspector general’s office said in their report released Thursday that they found it “troubling” that the managers were “aware that thousands of veterans were potentially owed more than $150 million yet did not take adequate actions to ensure refunds were issued.”

“It is the review team’s opinion that requiring a veteran to submit a claim for a refund improperly places the burden and responsibility solely upon the veteran,” investigators said.

The VA issued a press release last month – as the inspector general was preparing to release the investigation results – announcing that the agency is now notifying veterans when they buy homes under the program that they are exempt from the fees if they are disabled or later determined to be disabled.

“Through an internal quality improvement effort, VA has put a plan in place to better inform veterans through key communications when the law allows VA to waive the fee for a veteran,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in the release.

The release did not say what is being done to ensure veterans due refunds from loans in prior years are paid. The inspector general found the amounts owed in its review ranged from $5,000 to $20,000.

The VA said veterans who believe they are owed a refund should consult the agency’s website for more information about VA home loan funding fees.

Between 2012 and 2017, the VA collected roughly $10 billion in fees from veterans under the loan program.

The inspector general estimated disabled veterans who were wrongly charged accounted for $286 million of those fees. But the VA only refunded about $100 million, leaving an estimated $190 million that may still be due to 53,200 veterans.   

The Loan Guaranty program was established in 1944 to help veterans finance home purchases. Loans are provided by private lenders, but the VA guarantees a portion of the loans for eligible buyers. The lenders collect the fees and transmit them to the VA.

If a veteran wrongly paid the fees, the VA can refund the money directly to the veteran. If the fees were included as part of a loan, the VA pays the lender, which applies it to the loan balance.

In 2014, regional VA loan officials in St. Paul, Minnesota, notified senior VA managers that an analysis found nearly $150 million may be due in refunds to disabled veterans for fees on 48,000 loans issued between 2006 and 2014.

“As of January 2019, the review team received no indication that a large-scale effort had been initiated to issue refunds to these veterans,” the inspector general said.   

The director of the Loan Guaranty program since 2017, Jeffrey London, told investigators he “considered contracting out the task of issuing refunds, but never requested the award of a contract because other priorities…took precedence,” the investigators wrote.

The inspector general recommended the agency identify and pay all the veterans owed refunds. In addition, the VA should implement procedures to minimize the number of veterans who are wrongly charged fees and conduct periodic reviews to ensure those who are receive prompt refunds.

The VA told investigators some of the fees were incorrectly assessed by lenders, not the VA. But agency officials said in their response to the report that they “generally agreed” with the investigation’s findings and are consulting lawyers about complexities related to issuing refunds.

The agency “has drafted a plan with contingencies ready for implementation depending on the (legal) opinion,” the VA response said. The agency did not elaborate on what the plan is or when refunds will be issued.  

 

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American journalist killed by Russian forces in Ukraine, police say

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 An American journalist was killed and another journalist was wounded by Russian forces in the town of Irpin outside the capital of Kyiv on Sunday, Ukrainian police said. 

Brent Renaud, a 50-year-old filmmaker, was killed when Russian troops opened fire, according to Andriy Nebytov, the head of Kyiv’s regional police force. Nebytov posted a graphic photo purportedly of Renaud’s body on Facebook, as well as pictures of his American passport and media credentials issued by The New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Times said Renaud was “a talented filmmaker who had contributed to The New York Times over the years,” most recently in 2015, but he “was not on assignment for any desk at The Times in Ukraine.”

Nebytov wrote that Renaud “paid [with] his life for trying to highlight the aggressor’s ingenuity, cruelty and ruthlessness,” according to an automated translation of his Facebook post.

Renaud and his brother Craig Renaud have reported from a number of global hotspots over the past two decades, including Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt, according to a biography on their website. The pair won a Peabody Award in 2015 for an eight-part documentary for Vice News about a school in Chicago for students with severe emotional issues.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan called reports of Renaud’s death “shocking and horrifying,” telling “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the U.S. and its allies would impose “appropriate consequences” against Russia for the killing.

“I will just say that this is part and parcel of what has been a brazen aggression on the part of the Russians where they have targeted civilians, they have targeted hospitals, they have targeted places of worship and they have targeted journalists,” Sullivan said.

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Singer Traci Braxton of ‘Braxton Family Values’ dies at 50

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Singer Traci Braxton, who was featured with her family in the reality television series “Braxton Family Values,” died at age 50 on Saturday.

Her sister, Toni, and family said that Braxton died “this morning as the snow was falling.” According to reports, Traci Braxton had been fighting esophageal cancer.

“Needless to say, she was a bright light, a wonderful daughter, an amazing sister, a loving mother, wife, grandmother and a respected performer,” the family said. “We will miss her dearly.”

“Braxton Family Values” aired for seven seasons starting in 2011 on WeTV. It focused on the lives of sisters Toni, Traci, Tamar, Trina and Towanda and their extended families.

Traci was an actress and singer who released albums in 2014 and 2018, with the singles “Last Call” and “Broken Things” her best-known songs.

She spent much of her time doing social work for children with disabilities, according to her website.

She was married to Kevin Surratt, with whom she appeared on the TV series “Marriage Boot Camp.”

Their son, Kevin Surratt Jr., said on Instagram Saturday that his mother fought to the end.

“I love my mother forever and this hurts so much but I’m at peace knowing she’s not in pain anymore,” he said.

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UNITED MASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS

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BPRW) UNITEDMASTERS TEAMS UP WITH THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS TO GIVE INDEPENDENT ARTISTS THE OPPORTUNITY TO WIN $15K AND HAVE THEIR MUSIC INCLUDED IN THE FILM’S PROMOTIONAL CAMPAIGN

ORIGINAL SONG “BACK TO LIFE” FROM EMERGING HIP-HOP ARTIST QUANTRELLE WINS GRAND PRIZE; 5 RUNNERS UP TO RECEIVE $1,000

(Prestige Celebrity Magazine) NEW YORK, NY — In celebration of the highly anticipated film The Matrix Resurrections, UnitedMasters – the “record label in your pocket” for independent artists – has joined forces with Warner Bros. Pictures to offer a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for artists to win $15,000 and have their original music included in the film’s promotional campaign. 

Today, UnitedMasters has revealed rising hip-hop artist and Charlotte, NC native Quantrelle as the winner of the contest. Quantrelle’s song, “Back to Life,” written specially for the open call, will receive the $15,000 cash prize and be featured in The Matrix Resurrections promotional campaign. Quantrelle’s track was selected as the lead song out of thousands of entries.

Quantrelle shared, “When I first started working on this song, the intention was to create a sound that embodied the energy of the movie. Once that feeling was solidified, I got inspired to write lyrics that really speak to the film and are words any Matrix fan would understand. I was really inspired by the scene of Neo dodging bullets, which I watched during the process, and that illustrious moment felt so in sync with what I was going for, that’s when I knew we had something special.”  

Five runners-up were also selected to receive $1,000 each to put towards their music careers. Each track was judged by UnitedMasters’ professional sync team and based on encompassing The Matrix themes, overall creativity, production quality, lyrical content, dynamics, mood, and emotion. The Matrix Resurrections is set to release in U.S. theaters and on HBO Max on December 22nd.

UnitedMasters’ engagement with The Matrix Resurrections aligns with their mission of ensuring the next generation of creators take their futures into their own hands. UnitedMasters is dedicated to helping artists level the playing field by offering opportunities and exclusive resources often reserved for major label acts. The platform gives independent artists access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help directly connect with their fans, and opportunities to connect with brands that want access to premium music produced and owned by independent artists. UnitedMasters artists maintain ownership over their master recording rights while being introduced to millions of new fans worldwide through direct brand partnerships.

About UnitedMasters

Launched in 2017 by Translation founder and music industry veteran Steve Stoute, UnitedMasters is a music technology company that gives creators access to premium music distribution services, a suite of tools to help them directly connect with fans, and opportunities for unique partnerships with some of the world’s biggest brands all while allowing them to maintain full ownership over their master recording rights.

About The Matrix Resurrections

The Matrix Resurrections reunites Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as cinematic icons Neo and Trinity. Return to a world of two realities: one, everyday life; the other, what lies behind it. To find out if his reality is a physical or mental construct, to truly know himself, Mr. Anderson will have to choose to follow the white rabbit once more. And if Thomas…Neo…has learned anything, it’s that choice, while an illusion, is still the only way out of—or into—the Matrix. Of course, Neo already knows what he has to do. But what he doesn’t yet know is the Matrix is stronger, more secure and more dangerous than ever before. Déjà vu.

The film also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Jada Pinkett Smith (“Angel Has Fallen,” TV’s “Gotham”).

Lana Wachowski directed from a screenplay by Wachowski & David Mitchell & Aleksander Hemon, based on characters created by The Wachowskis. The film was produced by James McTeigue, Lana Wachowski and Grant Hill. The executive producers were Garrett Grant, Terry Needham, Michael Salven, Karin Wachowski, Jesse Ehrman and Bruce Berman.

Wachowski’s creative team behind the scenes included directors of photography Daniele Massaccesi and John Toll, production designers Hugh Bateup and Peter Walpole, editor Joseph Jett Sally, costume designer Lindsay Pugh, visual effects supervisor Dan Glass, and composers Johnny Klimek and Tom Tykwer.

Warner Bros. Pictures Presents, In Association with Village Roadshow Pictures, In Association with Venus Castina Productions, The Matrix Resurrections. The film will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures. It will be in theaters nationwide and on HBO Max via the Ad-Free plan on December 22, 2021; it will be available on HBO Max in 4K UHD, HDR10, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos (English only) on supported devices for 31 days from theatrical release.

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