CalVet Home Loans client and Army veteran Mark Dust will tell you that a bomb in the road in Iraq in 2005 and the bombshell news he encountered last month each wracked his nerves similarly.

In 2005, infantryman Dust rode on the hood of a Humvee that suffered major damage, avoiding obliteration only because the bomb detonated a second too soon. He suffered a permanent eye injury that day, and by the time he left the Army in 2007, he’d also worn out both Achilles’ tendons, developed carpal tunnel syndrome, and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Army veteran Mark Dust and his family.

Back home, Dust – a college graduate before he enlisted in the Army – returned to school to earn an Executive MBA in 2010, following that with a doctorate in psychology in 2018. He now teaches stress management and other public health courses at Cal State Fullerton. He relied on his own experiences to develop a PTSD prevention theory that focuses on employing calming influences. The theory got tested in May, when the loan deal he thought he’d secured for a new home in Riverside County suddenly fell apart.  

“Now that I think about it,” Dust said, “it was the same kind of shock and despair as when I got blown up in Iraq. A bomb goes off, and it changes your world. I felt almost the same when I got the notice about our traditional financing (denial). It was extremely stressful.”

Stressful, indeed, because the family – Dust, his wife, three children, five dogs, and two cats – had to be out of the home they’d rented in San Bernardino that the owner was selling. They needed to be into the new home – or another rental – by May 31.

His calming influence? CalVet Home Loans Associate Lesa Walker and her team. Walker and Dust spoke for the first time in early May. The loan closed a couple of weeks later. The Dust family began June – which is both PTSD Awareness Month and National Home Ownership Month – in their brand-new home in the city of Menifee.  How did that happen so quickly?

He’d been working with the builder’s lender since November, and everything seemed to be going smoothly. Then market changes, along with an automated system that didn’t understand his finances and financial history, suddenly kicked the loan out. The builder referred Dust to Walker, who finds tremendous joy in finding ways to make loans work for veterans.

“Lesa saw me as a person, not a number,” Dust said. “I didn’t have to fit an algorithm. Lesa was able get down into the details of my sources of income and make the connection the algorithm missed.”

Dust wept in frustration during their initial conversation, but she promised him she’d work hard on his behalf.

She quickly delved deep into Dust’s financial history and income sources – he also teaches online courses for another school – to determine what a computer would not: that he could qualify for a CalVet home loan.

“He was devastated when we first spoke,” Walker said. “I told him, ‘If there’s anything that can done, I’m the girl to do it.’ I worked on it as if it were for my family, my house.”  She detailed every step and every document Dust needed to provide. “He checked in daily.”

She and her team worked hard to fast-track the loan; moving day to vacate the rental was fast approaching.

“We put a rush on it,” Walker said. “Our processor (Rosario Chavez), our underwriter (Maria Arias) and our closer (Janice Nakamura)– rolled it.”

The loan closed on May 26 and the family moved in two days later.

“Lesa, Rosario Chavez, Maria, and the rest of the closing team pulled off a miracle,” Dust said. “It took them only 14 days from my name hitting Lesa’s desk to having a mortgage approved, closed, funded, and the keys to our new house in my hand. She went to bat for me like no one else ever has and doesn’t even know what I look like.”

A miracle to Dust, perhaps, but not to CalVet Deputy Secretary Theresa Gunn, who heads the Home Loans Division and sees her staff do the seemingly impossible every day.

“The Dust family’s story is amazing and the passion CalVet staff have to serve veterans is what enables CalVet Home Loans to help in these situations,” said Gunn. “I’m in awe at the compassion, respect, and dedication Lesa, Rosario, Maria and the rest of the CalVet Home Loans Team have to help veterans achieve the dream of homeownership.” 

It was Walker’s favorite kind of loan: challenging and rewarding.

“It was a very touching moment the day he got his keys,” Walker said. “That’s why I love my job. I work on lots of loans that touch your heart.”

The Dust family settled happily into their new home. And Dust gained some valuable insight for his theory on handling PTSD. CalVet’s team, indeed, calmed his soul.

For more information on obtaining a CalVet home loan, visit or call us directly during regular business hours at (866) 653-2510. We are happy to help. 

One comment

  1. Suzanne McIlrath · · Reply

    What a wonderful story about someone who went above and beyond the call of duty to help this man and his family! I want to be part of something like this and to help VET’s get into their homes, as well!


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