Veterans Administration-backed loans for New Jersey veterans and military service members have spiked over the past five years.

Chris Birk, director of education for VA lender Veterans United, said there has been an 80 percent increase in the number of loans in the Garden State since fiscal year 2013.

VA loans are backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA helps service members, veterans and eligible surviving spouses become homeowners. VA Home Loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks and mortgage companies, and the VA guarantees a portion of the loan.

"This is a hard-earned job benefit that veterans, military members and select others have earned through service and sacrifice to our country," Birk said.

He said a lot of the increase since the end of the housing crisis has to do with better awareness by veterans and military members of the loan programs. But he said there is also the story of the loan program "and how much that has helped to build up the middle class across so much of the United States."

Birk said there's also been an increase in VA loans to younger vets and military members.

"I think what so many veterans and military members and their families have found is that it is not just another option, for so many of them -- it is the most powerful mortgage option on the market," he said.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5.

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