Countrywide, for all its previous issues, was and is one of the most comprehensible sources of mortgages. When no one else would work with an FHA or VA loan, they would and they had the trained personnel to do it.
Any lender should work, but unfortunately so many lenders issue pre-approval letters that actually are only pre-qualification letters that the seller wants a letter he can rely on. Countrywide was sold to Bank of America a year ago and has undergone a dramatic overhaul.
If you were flying when the DC-10s starting dropping out of the sky, which plane would you pick -- one of those thoroughly inspected by FAA and inspectors (DC-10) or one that had not yet undergone its normal inspection (all others)? Countrywide has been deeply inspected now, and as a lender is still the most organized and reliable, despite the catastrophe that started in 2007.
If you don't like Countrywide, you could try using a letter from your own lender IF they are a well-known and respected one. If you have a mortgage broker with typical weak letter, don't expect HUD or VA to accept it, though. Countrywide does what should be done and verifies facts to pre-qualifiy you. Once Countrywide pre-qualifies you, you do not have to use them to get a loan. No, they are not the government's preferred lender.