David Danielson of Cloquet officially became the first veteran to receive a Department of Veterans Affairs home loan for a house on the Fond du Lac Reservation at a signing Wednesday, Aug. 7.

The small gathering happened more than two decades after Danielson helped establish an agreement between the VA an the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa that allows veterans to receive VA-backed home loans on federal trust land.

“I'm so happy today, I just can't believe it. I'm tingling,” Danielson said at the signing. “It's a wonderful feeling.”

Danielson served in the U.S. Marines in Cambodia more than four decades ago, but his records did not reflect his service until about three years ago. After years of trying to get his paperwork corrected, his efforts didn’t produce results until he reached out to former U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan about straightening out his records.

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That meant that until recently, Danielson couldn’t take advantage of veteran benefits like the VA’s home loan program, which he helped bring to Fond du Lac when he did legal research for the band.

To purchase his three-bedroom, 28-by-56-foot modular home from Ideal Homes in Barnum using the loan program, Danielson didn't have to pay a down payment and he has a low interest rate on his fixed mortgage. He did, however, have to clear any outstanding debt he had with the federal government, have a minimum credit score and verify proper income.

Lynn Reynolds, a leasing specialist with the resource management department at Fond du Lac, mediated between Danielson and the VA during the nearly two-year process. Since there aren’t many lenders on trust land, Reynolds said the VA’s Native American Direct Loan (NADL) program can open a new door for veterans exploring home financing options on the reservation, including older veterans.

“There are veterans who don’t think they’re qualified because they’re older,” Reynolds said. “They think it’s too late.”

Dave Hein, who works in loan production with the VA, guided Danielson through the signing and spoke on the importance of the NADL program, saying that it’s a way to level the playing field for veterans on tribal trust land, where the VA’s commercial lenders can’t practice.

“We’re just trying to make sure Dave (Danielson) from Cloquet and Dave (Hein) from St. Michael have the same benefit coming out the end,” he said.

“There we go,” Danielson said.

Since the NADL program started in 1992, more than 1,000 loans have been made to Native American veterans. Twenty-three of those were made in fiscal year 2018.

Danielson hopes that his experience receiving a home loan can show other veterans in Fond du Lac and elsewhere in the nation that the VA home loan program is a viable option.

“It’s a government to government relationship that should keep moving forward,” Danielson said. “I’m so glad it’s here now at Fond du Lac and that I’m involved with it. I just love it.”

Reynolds said that veterans looking to learn more about VA-backed home loan opportunities on the Fond du Lac Reservation can contact Fond du Lac Reservation Resource Management's land information department at 218-878-7128.