Saturday, December 9, 2017

MORE GOOD NEWS: CHEYENNE VAMC TO WORK ON EXPANDING VETERAN-DIRECTED HOME & COMMUNITY HEALTH SERVICE

Today brought a most welcome phone call from Cheyenne! Veteran-Directed Home & Community-Based Services is poised to expand. Nothing locked-down just yet, but the biggest goal I had this year was to win VA administrators' agreement to get the process started.

The specific news was about the medical center anticipated development of their own VD-HCBS program to serve elderly and disabled veterans in that part of VISN-19 territory.

Very welcome news, indeed. Our thanks not only to Cheyenne but to all the state, federal and local leaders who voiced their opinion about how valuable this program is to vets otherwise facing nursing home placement.

UVC...THANKS!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Colorado’s Disabled Veterans’ Property Tax Exemption – The “Missing in Action” Law

by Wes Carter, National Chairperson, The C-123 Veterans Association

It’s hard to believe. Over this last decade state officials simply ignored property tax provisions spelled out in Colorado’s constitution to provide a small exemption to totally disabled troops retired by the military for line-of-duty injuries. It’s like the law simply went missing in action.

Back in 2006 voters amended our constitution, approving by a four-to-one margin to provide a small, partial property tax exemption. Only about $480 on average, the exemption is for two categories of injured servicemembers: Troops retired by the military as totally and permanently, and second, veterans rated 100% totally and permanently disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Referendum E carefully addressed both of the above categories because there are three differences between them:
1. Not all disabled military retirees also seek a VA disability rating – ratings must be applied for
2. Although based on similar laws, often military retirees face years of delays with claims and appeals to receive VA ratings, but military disability retirements are effective immediately upon leaving active duty
3. The military views a disability as medically unable, through line-of-duty illness or injury, to perform one's military specialty or be retrained in another; VA views disability as the percentage of loss of capacity to work in meaningful employment, somewhat similar to Social Security disability rules

(real example: Northern Colorado resident Vietnam-era veteran medically retired as 100% by the military in 1991 because of Gulf War injuries. Filed VA claims for numerous 100% disabling injuries and Agent Orange illnesses in 1992-1994 but not finally approved for 100% VA disability rating until 2015. Per our constitution's Article X Section 3.5, this veteran was eligible for Colorado's disabled veteran tax exemption in 2007. As of December 2017, still no state web site instructions or forms permit his application because only federal VA 100% disability ratings are mentioned, not his 100% military medical retirement.)

Problem: Through an oversight when the 2007 statute was drafted, the category of totally disabled military retirees was simply not mentioned…language about them is in the constitution, but was absent from the text of the law.

In 2015 concerned citizens discovered this missing language issue and asked the legislature to align the constitution with the statute. Both houses approved HB-1444 unanimously and it was signed into law in May 2016.

And it has been simply ignored since then.

Here's the law describing the partial tax exemption. The bold type was left out of the enabling statute:

 “(3.5) ‘Qualifying disabled veteran’ means an individual who has served on active duty in the United States armed forces, including a member of the Colorado National Guard who has been ordered into the active military service of the United States, has been separated therefrom under honorable conditions, and has established a service-connected disability that has been rated by the federal department of veterans affairs as one hundred percent permanent disability through disability retirement benefits pursuant to a law or regulation administered by the department, the United States departments of homeland security, Army, Navy, or Air Force.”

May 2016. Governor signs HB16-1444. That's me on left.
Now the statute has been repaired, the missing words added to comply with the constitution. However, there's a problem with the way the law finally gets administered: Colorado officials simply haven't gotten around to its section addressing totally and permanently disabled military retirees so they’re still denied their property tax exemption. Officials never changed the application forms, the rules or the instructions.

The governor signed HB16-1444, an act unanimously approved by both houses of the legislature in May 2016 and placed those missing words from the constitution into the law, effective June 2016. His signature has been ignored, and without any constitutional or legal authority at all, totally disabled military retirees continue to be taxed and their rights abused.

When I've discussed this taxation disconnect with officials there's no disagreement about the problem. They just don’t see ignoring it as a big deal.

This is a big deal! The constitution expresses people’s will. Officials from the governor on down have sworn to protect and defend it. A constitutional provision like this can’t simply be ignored. You may recall that in 1776 unfair taxation led to some disagreement between England and her American colonies. 

Now that this problem has been pointed out to state officials, they’ve indicated rules and application forms might be set right by January 2018. But that’s so very late, especially considering the constitution provided their exemption effective ten years ago.

Few Coloradoans tolerate being wrongfully taxed. We owe these veterans so much more than this small tax exemption they’ve earned through disabling line-of-duty injuries. Colorado has no excuse for failing to provide it.

These veterans have been patient long enough. The constitution has been ignored long enough.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Colorado Disabled Veteran Property Tax: A Colorado Editorial

VA "UNEMPLOYABILITY" - How did it disqualify vets from Colorado's Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption?
by Wes Carter, National Chairperson, The C-123 Veterans Association for the Fort Collins Coloradoan

In 2006 Colorado voters amended our constitution to provide totally disabled military veterans a small partial property tax exemption. This is now Article X Section 3.5 of the constitution and 39-3-202 of our statutes. The Legislative Council 2006 Blue Book explained to voters that federal VA disability ratings are the standard followed by Colorado to qualify veterans for their exemption.

VA has two ratings recognizing a veteran’s total and permanent disability. One rating is for injuries VA rules consider 100% disabling. The other rating is for severe military injuries even worse than the disability percentage VA rules allow for that particular injury or illness, and which make the veteran unable to work for the remainder of his/her lifetime...that rating is termed, "Total Disability Individual Unemployability" (TDIU.) Both of these VA ratings are for total and permanent disability based solely on military illnesses or injuries. 

Nothing in the law permits denying TDIU veterans the tax exemption, yet the state refuses to honor any applications without a basis for refusal. Looking back to the Blue Book’s Referendum E explanation, voters were told it is for veterans so disabled by military illness or injury that meaningful work is impossible for their remaining lifetime. Referendum E passed by a decisive four-to-one margin.

Because voters amended the constitution addressing veterans whose permanent and totally disabling illnesses and injuries caused unemployability for life, there is no justification for agencies to invent disqualifiers for TDIU.

But that’s what happened, and it’s wrong.

As per Colorado’s constitution, federal VA ratings must be respected. Veterans rated totally and permanently disabled, including TDIU, must be afforded their lawful property tax exemption.

Other Coloradans wouldn’t tolerate being unconstitutionally taxed. 

These veterans have been patient long enough.