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Disabled Vet Battles for Home

After Sgt. Eric Spalding returned from Iraq with a traumatic brain injury and a Purple Heart, his brick ranch in Ypsilanti was his cave, his only haven.

So when his lender, GMAC Mortgage, started foreclosure proceedings, Spalding wasn't going to let the company take the house.

"I didn't have anything else," said Spalding, a gunner who guarded convoys in Iraq for the Michigan National Guard and has a son, Eric. "Where am I going to live? Under a bridge?" he asked.

Like many borrowers seeking a loan modification, Spalding almost lost his home at sheriff's sale while seeking help with his mortgage payments.

He was wounded in 2007. His troubles began when he returned home and failed to pay his 2008 property taxes. His military pay had been cut in half, a job at General Dynamics was outsourced, and he said he didn't know he was eligible for disability until later.

GMAC paid the taxes for him to preserve its interest in the property, then rolled them into his mortgage, raising his payments from $1,100 to more than $2,300 a month.

That put him behind on his payments, said Moonson River Eninsche, a foreclosure prevention counselor with the Washtenaw County Treasurer's Office who intervened to help Spalding.

GMAC and Spalding don't agree on what happened next.

Eninsche said GMAC offered Spalding a three-month trial modification in April, with monthly payments of about $1,430.

According to Spalding, GMAC then offered him a permanent modification. He signed the papers and said he believed his monthly payments would remain $1,430. Yet the next month, he said, GMAC billed $2,300.

Eninsche said it appeared to him that GMAC was processing two conflicting applications at the same time.

According to GMAC spokesman Jim Olecki, Spalding did not qualify for the federal Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, because he earned too much.

GMAC described several efforts to lower Spalding's loan payments under other programs. In each case, Spalding stopped payment or failed to write a check, forcing GMAC to cancel the deals, Olecki said.

In October, Eninsche said, GMAC hired a lawyer and began plans to sell the home at auction.

After repeated calls to GMAC, Eninsche said, GMAC called off the sheriff's sale and in November agreed to a permanent modification that lowered Spalding's monthly payment to around $1,450, including taxes and insurance.

Deb Odom Stern, an Ann Arbor Realtor who also helped Spalding, said she made sure GMAC knew it was dealing with disabled veteran.

Spalding said the experience has resulted in the "total dismantling of my life and credit."

He said he traded one of the most dangerous jobs in Iraq for a yearlong fight with GMAC.

It was a fight worth fighting, he said.

He is home for good.

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