Why is Congress making veterans pay for their own hard-earned benefits?

We’re not asking that question as a country, and it’s time to start.

President Trump in late June signed the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, opening the door to disability benefits for about 90,000 deserving veterans after years of false starts and faint hopes. This important win was a long time in the making.

A bipartisan consensus formed to pay for these critical benefits with a temporary increase to VA home loan fees. But a month later, Congress is right back at it again.

Now they want to extend those higher loan fees for an additional five years to pay for housing grant and education benefits for qualified veterans. This new bill, HR 3504, passed the House in late July but has yet to be taken up by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Whether it’s expanding disability benefits or scholarship programs, veterans and their families have earned these benefits. We should push our elected officials to boost funding for important measures like HR 3504 at every turn. But Congress can’t continue to reduce one veteran’s benefit to pay for another.

Extending these fees would force VA borrowers to pay more than $750 million to use their home loan benefit over the next seven years, with most of that money going to programs that have nothing to do with housing. The Congressional Budget Office projects the two bills will produce a combined $160 million government windfall.

They’re also going to make it more difficult and even riskier for some veterans to get a VA loan.

Most veterans and service members finance the funding fee, which applies to all VA loans unless the borrower receives compensation for a service-connected disability. These $0 down mortgages have been the safest loan on the market for nearly all of the past decade, but having to finance higher fees pushes homeowners underwater on their mortgages for longer, making it difficult if not impossible for them to sell in some cases.

Owing more than your home is worth can be especially devastating for active duty military, who relocate frequently given the nature of their service.

Instead of hiding behind pay-as-you-go rules that require tax increases or cuts to offset new spending, lawmakers could stand up for veterans and military families and exempt their benefits entirely.

Congress waived the budget rule to bail out big banks, make infrastructure investments, enact tax cuts and more. They can and should create a permanent pay-as-you-go exemption to protect veterans’ benefits. It’s time to stop this zero-sum approach to caring for those who serve our country and their families.

The men and women of our Armed Forces sacrifice so much to safeguard our freedoms. They’re trained to make tough choices every single day, often with lives hanging in the balance.

As a country, we’ve made a promise to veterans and military families. We shouldn’t be falling short because of budgetary rules and procedures. We shouldn’t be hiking home loan fees or raising TRICARE pharmacy co-pays to cover another veteran’s benefit.

Congress must fully live up to that promise and start making tough choices about funding and priorities without sacrificing or eroding veterans’ benefits.

Our job is to make sure they know we’re watching.

Chris Birk is author of “The Book on VA Loans: An Essential Guide to Maximizing Your Home Loan Benefits” and director of education for Veterans United Home Loans, the country’s largest VA lender.