Loan officer goes from military to mortgages

Once poised to launch missiles, broker now secures mortgages for military clients

Loan officer goes from military to mortgages

A job in the mortgage industry may seem somewhat anticlimactic after a 30-year military career working in missile-launching command center. Yet for one loan officer, working with mortgages is as critical a role. 

That’s the unlikely path taken by Gay Veale (pictured), a loan officer with Epoch Lending based in Colorado Springs, Colo. During a telephone interview with Mortgage Professional America, Veale said she sought her independence at 18 in joining the US Air Force and liked the idea of earning a bit of money for college. The prospect of world travel added to the appeal. 

“I went into the Air Force right out of high school after graduating in 1988 with the intent to get money for school,” said Veale, the oldest of three children from a middle-class family during her formative years in Texas. “There wasn’t really money for college, and frankly I wasn’t really ready to go to college either. So I thought I’d take a little break from school, see the world and have this wonderful adventure.”

Sounds good so far – a sojourn into military life. “And 30 years later….,” she continued with a laugh, I found myself retiring from the Air Force after a long career.”

Initially working in a photo lab for the military, Veale sought more excitement. She was transferred to the 24-hour command center from which missiles are launched. A couple of years later, the first Gulf War was declared, heightening the adrenaline – and the attendant responsibility – even more. She described the high-stakes environment analogous to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) as depicted in the 1983 movie “WarGames,” the plot of which involves a high school student unwittingly tapping into the War Operation Plan Response while innocently playing a game of Global Thermonuclear War, playing as the Soviet Union – nearly causing World War III when the simulation is mistakenly thought to be a real-world scenario targeting American cities.

Read more: AIME, VETTED VA join to help military members achieve homeownership

But we digress. “I really enjoyed it, and I was good at my job,” Veale recalled. She indulged her wanderlust – having seen Germany, Japan, Great Britain and other far-flung places – and secured an important job in which she felt she truly contributed. Upon completing her 30-year career, she would retire with the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force – that of command chief master sergeant.

After a break of around eight months, she found herself treading carefully back into civilian life. “I was very nervous about finding a job, and wasn’t sure what life would look like with a pension, possibly some disability pay, from the military.”

She ended up taking up a job with a defense contractor working for the Missile Defense Agency, in its IT department – without the benefit of a background in IT, she noted. Americans were kept safe because of the work she did – going about their lives, shopping for groceries and whatnot under the protective mantle provided by the agency, she described.

“It was a great mission, it was very noble,” she said. “I mean, we were responsible for the defense of North America. That’s pretty cool. We’re protected from North Korea because of this job I contributed to. But because of my lack of IT experience, I didn’t feel super-comfortable in the job,” she acknowledged. She suggested the role, while of utmost importance, seemed abstract: “But more importantly – even though I was having an impact on people every day – I didn’t feel a connection,” she said. “I was missing my military family, the camaraderie, and working directly with military people,” she said of her stint in an agency largely comprising civilian personnel.

While commiserating during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, a friend with whom she had been stationed brought up the idea of becoming a broker. Her friend, Mamie Console, is a surviving military spouse, having lived abroad while her husband put in his military service. “She had been in the mortgage industry for about two years, and she said: ‘You would love it – you have a huge network of people, you get to do a lot of VA work for veterans and I think you’d be really good at it,’” she recalled her friend saying.

After some initial hesitation, she decided to follow her friend’s advice. She quit her defense contactor job and became a mortgage broker in 2020, working alongside her friend (and fellow loan officer) at Epoch Lending. Almost immediately, she felt at home – particularly when it came to advocating for veterans.

“Having purchased a home a couple of times using my VA loan, I learned very quickly there are a lot of companies out there that will try to pass themselves off as the VA, and the veteran might not know any better,” she said. “When you’re in the military, you know one of your benefits is a VA loan but there’s no training on it. The military or the VA don’t train you on a VA loan and how it works. While the VA loan might not be attractive to sellers, it’s very attractive to a lender because it’s pretty easy to qualify the veteran. And the VA guarantees the loan up to 25%. It’s a pretty darn safe loan for lenders. That’s one of the reasons why that group gets preyed upon pretty heavily, especially if they’re active duty where there’s guaranteed pay there.”

She leverages her own experience with the VA and her kinship with fellow veterans to guide the second career chapter: “One of the biggest things I offer to veterans is education. I care more that a veteran becomes educated as a result of coming in contact with me than them getting a mortgage through me. Really, to me it’s about education.”

Read next: Crackdown on deceptive VA lenders continues

Her own experience navigating through a VA loan for home purchases further informs her mortgage career: “I didn’t really understand the ins and outs of lending and fees and costs associated with a VA loan and how a VA loan actually works, and it was pretty eye-opening,” she said. She would learn the targeting from companies seeking to capitalize would continue well after closing: “The minute you close on your home, it’s public record and they start sending mailers,” she said, estimating that, between her husband and her, her mailbox gets a mailer per day deposited into it. “It’s a nonstop barrage of harassment.”

Veale posted some $18 million in volume last year across 55 units, servicing a clientele she estimates is 98% military. While there is a ready pipeline of military personnel (and potential customers) in her home base – including those working at the Cheyenne Mountain Complex which figured prominently in “WarGames” as it turns out – her business isn’t solely generated from her immediate area. Licensed in 11 states, she secured more mortgages from Virginia (albeit beating Colorado by a mere two) last year.

That military camaraderie she once longed for extends to her home life. She met him at a Halloween party while both served in Japan, and their son would be born in Great Britain. During her interview with MPA, she let it slip that she outranked him throughout their military stints as he joined a decade after she did. But she assured she doesn’t pull rank at home.

“There was a big rank difference between us, and that can be intimidating for a guy – especially in the military. But he never batted an eye,” she said. “He was incredibly supportive, and would move in a whim when I got evermore senior roles – almost to the detriment of his own career. He never complained about it, never blamed me for it, but was always very supportive.”

She also credits the Association of Independent Mortgage Experts (AIME) with offering support and guidance as she gingerly treaded her new career path.

“It’s such a game changer. It’s not just the education piece, but it’s the first place we go when we’re looking to refer a client that comes to us that we can’t assist because of state licensing,” she said. “It’s a wonderful source of referrals as well. Just exposure to other brokers in general. My network in this industry has grown tremendously almost overnight really. It is because of AIME and the events that they host where we can get together and network and meet people - I’ve already made lifelong friends through that group.”

Despite her nascent career, she recently was tapped as chair of AIME’s Veterans Homeownership Committee. “I almost fell out of my chair when they told me that,” she joked. “I told them I’ve only been in this industry for a year and a half. You know that right? But they knew that I was a long-time veteran and that I am very passionate about VA loans and veterans advocacy and education and homeownership. I think they just thought ‘she may not be the most experienced loan officer, but she cares about veterans with all her heart’.”

And the beat goes on.