Home loans through the Department of Veterans Affairs more than tripled in the wake of the 2007-2009 mortgage crisis, providing a critical line of lending credit to tens of thousands of veterans trying to buy a house, according to a report released Tuesday.

Researchers say those numbers show the quiet importance of the VA program, a benefit used by million of veterans but often getting less attention than initiatives like health care coverage and education stipends.

"This is a stable, accessible form of credit that has helped a lot of families," said Keith Wiley, a research associate at the Housing Assistance Council and co-author of the report. "And over the years it has been expanding."

The report, funded in part by the Home Depot Foundation, found nearly 9 percent of all home mortgages in America in 2014 were backed by VA, up from 2 percent a decade earlier.

Before the recession, those loans totaled around 140,000 a year. Today, those numbers are closer to 510,000, making them the third-largest home loan type in the country (behind conventional commercial mortgages and loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration).  

That’s still far from the peak of importance for the loans, which began in 1944 as part of the original GI Bill. Just two years after the program was created, more than 40 percent of all mortgages in America were VA-guaranteed loans.

But researchers for the HAC report said today that the benefit is often overlooked by lawmakers and public planners, even if it still receives significant use from veterans.

"There has been a VA home loan in nearly every county in America," said Moises Loza, HAC executive director, in a statement. "There are more than 100 counties where VA loans make up 20 percent of the loan population. … The military community truly relies on the VA Home Loan program to provide a home for their families."

Researchers said they did not see a significant drop in the rejection rate of loan applications as the total mortgage count rose in recent years, another sign they say indicates stability and accessibility for veterans.

VA officials said nearly 40 percent of the loans approved in recent years were issued free of service charges, since the applicants qualified for disabled veteran status.

HAC officials said they hope the new report will be used as part of broader planning efforts on veterans homelessness and financial health, and to drive national policies on those issues.

More information is available at the group’s website.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.