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The Tax Man Cometh

Reprinted from PN April 2016

Paying your taxes doesn't have to be such a monetary burden

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It’s coming. The one day of the year dreaded by so many people across the country — Tax Day, which falls on April 18 this year. However, paying your taxes doesn’t have to be such a monetary burden.

Taxes can be reduced through numerous deductions and exemptions. This includes the many, various and sometimes unique benefits in each state reserved for veterans with varying degrees of disabilities.

Several Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) members have saved a significant amount of money each year by taking advantage of these benefits and they’re happy to share that information on how to do it.

Property Tax Exemption

Hen-Min Hiu, a member of the PVA Bay Area and Western Chapter, is a resident of Hawaii, which grants veterans who are 100% disabled as a result of service, a full property tax exemption. 

Hiu served in the Air Force and flew more than 300 missions as a forward air controller in Vietnam before being shot down in 1969. 

The resulting crash left Hiu an incomplete paraplegic. After this, Hiu retired in Hawaii and credits his exemption as being a substantial reason why he can afford the state’s notoriously high housing rates. 

“It definitely makes it affordable for us to live here,” says Hiu. “This allows us to have a better standard of living than we would otherwise. The cost of housing here is outrageous.”

In addition to saving thousands of dollars a year through the property tax exemption, Hiu also takes advantage of subsidized car registration. This is free besides a small administrative fee. Military retirement pay is also exempt from taxes in Hawaii. However, it’s the property tax exemption that provides Hiu the greatest amount of savings.

“The city and county of Honolulu exemption on my $800,000 condo is $800,000, the full amount of the assessor’s valuation. The standard exemption for everyone else, I think, is $40,000,” Hiu says. “The tax rate is then set every year according to how much money the city and county thinks it needs, and property owners are charged the rate times the remaining assessed value of their parcel. I have to pay a minimum tax of $300 a year no matter what the rate or value of my home. Last year, I would otherwise have had to fork over about $2,800 without my special exemption.” 

Tax exemptions for property taxes are not unique to Hawaii. Craig Cascella, a past president of the PVA New England Chapter, also receives an exemption for his property in Rhode Island.


Shawn Tracy, PVA Mid-America Chapter vice president uses his tax-free ID card at Crest Foods to buy groceries for the month. Photo by Shawn Tracy.

Cascella served in the Marines and was a member of Marine Helicopter Squadron One until his injury in 1992. 

Cascella owns oceanfront property in Narraganset, R.I., that happens to be 100% exempt, saving him a substantial amount of money each year. 

These exemptions for veterans with disabilities in Rhode Island vary between municipalities. Cascella was informed of this property tax exemption by a stranger and went to his local town hall to explore further. There are many resources in place for veterans to learn how they can qualify. 

“I would encourage every veteran to look into whatever benefit they may have in their town and community, as well as using their service officer to help them out,” Cascella says.  “Also check with their local PVA chapter to help them out, along with the National Service Organization.”

Tax-Free Shopping

Shawn Tracy, PVA Mid-America Chapter vice president, has been taking advantage of Oklahoma’s exemptions and benefits for more than 15 years.

Tracy joined the Army in 1987 and served in the first Gulf War. He was injured while serving in Panama in 1992 and then returned to Oklahoma. While at his local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital, he heard about the laws in the works for tax exemptions and benefits for veterans. 

He joined PVA a few years later and currently receives a property tax exemption and uses a tax-free ID card. Tracy uses this card for groceries and numerous retail purchases. The only items the card can’t be used for are alcohol, tobacco products, firearms and fuel. 

“I did construction on my home this past year and saved thousands of dollars going to Home Depot and Lowe’s,” Tracy says. “Getting a 10% discount for veterans and then the tax exemption on top of that helped me save quite a bit.”

By consulting the PVA office in Oklahoma, Tracy first learned about the tax exemptions and benefits he qualified for as a veteran who is 100% disabled as a result of service. The office helped guide him through the proper processes and channels. 

 “It’s not a difficult process; you just have to know where to go to apply,” Tracy says. “It’s well worth it, definitely take advantage of it. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

There’s nothing Tracy has to do year-to-year in order to keep his property tax exemption or the ID card. These benefits can also be passed on to the widow or widower of a qualifying veteran. For these exemptions and benefits, veterans must take the letter they received from the VA saying that they are 100% disabled from service to their county tax office. 

The office will keep a copy, and the veteran shouldn’t have to do anything further. Should the veteran pass away, the widow or widower will receive an additional letter in the mail from the VA. He or she can take this letter to the tax office to retain the exemption. 

From these benefits and exemptions, veterans considered 100% disabled as a result of service in the state of Oklahoma can save from $1,000 to $6,000 a year. These veterans also enjoy no vehicle taxes. 

Hunting Licenses & More

Scott Ellis, government relations director at the PVA Mid-America Chapter, recommends that veterans consult their local government to find out what they’re eligible for, as benefits vary in each state.

“My recommendation is call the state or the local federal office and ask,” Ellis says. “It’s about the easiest thing to do. Don’t trust anybody but the state or your local authority.”

Veterans in Oklahoma must be 100% disabled as a result of service for the property tax exemption, tax-free ID card and exemption for vehicle tax. However, the state also offers many discounts for individuals with varying degrees of disability. 

If a veteran is 50% or more disabled, he or she can get a disabled veteran’s license plate for a $5 annual fee. Veterans are also eligible for a VA ID card or retired military member ID card. These cards enable them to enter state parks and museums for free and receive one weekend a month free at any state park to go camping or RVing. 

Lifetime hunting and fishing licenses are free for any Oklahoma resident who is at least 80% disabled, whether or not the person is a veteran.

Military retirees in Oklahoma can also exclude 75% of their retirement benefits, or $10,000, whichever is greater, but not to exceed the amount included in the federal adjusted gross income. 

If You Qualify, You Get Them

One factor that plays no part in receiving these exemptions and benefits is the veteran’s income level — a common misconception Ellis has witnessed.

“Your income has no bearing. Whether you live in a $55,000 home or a $1 million home, that’s irrelevant,” Ellis says. “If you qualify for the benefits, you get them.”

Oklahoma currently has one of the most robust tax exemptions and benefits programs available for veterans with disabilities. 

Ellis estimates that it took a total of five years to get all the appropriate bills passed through legislation and has assisted other states with passing similar legislation. The program has started receiving more attention at a national level, with other states looking to follow in Oklahoma’s footsteps. 

“It all starts with just an idea for somebody in a state that currently doesn’t offer these kinds of benefits,” Ellis says. “All that person has to do is call their local elected official and ask. I am very blessed to be in a state that offers as much as it does to its veterans.”

To find out what specific benefits are available to you in your state, consult with a tax professional or contact your local PVA National Service Officer from the roster.

 

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The Tax Man Cometh

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