Friday, February 26, 2016

VA Statement re: Permanent & Total Service-Connected Unemployability Ratings & "Unemployability"

In response to my inquiry, VA's Senior Management and Program Analyst at Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs emailed me the following confirmation that VA's details for permanent and total individual unemployability are worded the same as Colorado's constitution, at least, that's how the federal government reads their program and Colorado's statute.

The gentleman's name is obscured here but has been provided to CODVA authorities.

Readers here are reminded that the constitution holds that Colorado will go by ratings of the US Department of Veterans Affairs regarding eligibility for the property tax exemption, which reads: "BEEN RATED BY THE FEDERAL DEPARTMENT  OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT PERMANENT DISABILITY THROUGH DISABILITY RETIREMENT BENEFITS OR A PENSION PURSUANT TO A LAW OR REGULATION ADMINISTERED BY THE DEPARTMENT,"

Sxxxxxxx, Exxx, VBAVACO                      Feb 8






to meBenDavidLinda

We’d be happy to answer any questions Mr. Mestas and CO DVA have.  As I mentioned in my previous response, VA does consider some IU ratings, such as the one you provided as an example, to be permanent and total (P&T).  P&T IU ratings are clearly marked as such. 

Ex.. 
However, this VA opinion and the clear, very plain language in the law have proved immaterial to CODA officials. These unelected staffers simply inserted their own interpretation of Colorado's constitutional amendment and are determined to block many fully eligible veterans and their survivors now classified by VA as "permanent and total" via unemployability.

BTW, "unemployability" to VA is based solely on line of duty illnesses or injuries, and on VA's careful assessment only of the veteran's service-connected issues as being completely, totally, permanently disabling for life, and to total 100& in the overall appraisal of the veteran.

Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs Stumbles on Property Tax Exemption for Disabled Vets & Widows

Colorado statue on disabled veteran property tax relief: §§ 39-3-202(2) and (3) and 203(1.5) to (5), C.R.S:
"rated by the federal department of veterans affairs as one hundred percent permanent disability through disability retirement benefits or a pension pursuant to a law or regulation administered by the department, the department of homeland security, or the department of the army, navy, or air force."

Issues.
(1) Compelled to follow the 2007 legislation, Colorado Department of Veterans Affairs excludes recognition of US military disability retirements, despite clear provision in the constitution, and blocks such veterans from the disabled veteran property tax exemption.
(2) Missing from the Constitution but added somehow by CODVA as their own disqualifier are veterans with “unemployability” VA ratings. US Department of Veterans Affairs ratings for permanent and total disability with unemployability (TDIU) are unacceptable to CODVA, blocking many qualified veterans, and their survivors, from any disabled veteran property tax exemption.

Generally, veterans who receive 100% VA disability compensation pension benefits are free to work and are not limited in the amount of earnings they may receive, even when their single- or combined-impairment ratings total 100%. For example, office or sedentary workers such as clerks, lawyers, telephone workers and others may be totally disabled from military line of duty illness or injury yet fully able to continue gainful and satisfying employment although rated 100% disabled by VA for loss of use of legs.

Not so a TDIU disabled vet, professionally judged by VA, Social Security or state rehabilitation agency. That veteran’s service-connected disabilities are sufficient, without regard to other factors, and so severe as to prevent performing the mental and/or physical tasks required to get or keep substantially gainful employment. TDIU recognizes only permanent and totally disabling service-connected issues via an extra-schedular construct. A TDIU veteran is even barred by VA from employment rehab services because no employment is deemed possible.

Permanent and total disability individual unemployability (TDIU) is a recognition that service connected disabilities, while not rated individually at 100%, are complete enough in their totality to equal 100% and to prohibit employment and are in total, permanent and completely disabling. Diseases and injuries of long standing that are actually totally incapacitating will be regarded as permanently and totally disabling when the probability of permanent improvement under treatment is remote.

Permanence of total disability is taken to exist when such impairment is reasonably certain to continue throughout the life of the disabled person. Total disability is considered to exist when there is present any impairment of mind or body that is sufficient to render it impossible for the average person to follow a substantially gainful occupation.

Generally, a vet qualifying for TDIU would also meet SSI requirements for disability benefits, but the same is not true regarding SSDI recipients and TDIU because TDIU is awarded only for military line of duty issues that cause complete and permanent disability. The military services infrequently award such total disability retirements for service members whose injuries or illnesses are completely disabling and considered to be unimproved for life, but all military disability ratings, even for combat, are not accepted by CODVA which recognizes only the US Department of Veterans Affairs decisions, but then, not including VA’s permanent and total service-connected unemployability disability awards. The means by which CODVA excludes military disability retirements is not known, even though its provision is clearly constitutional and blocking these veterans is clearly unconstitutional!

Generally speaking, disregard for military disability ratings and VA TDIU ratings seems unique among states providing property tax relief. For instance, Virginia’s statutes:
A veteran is considered to have a 100 percent service-connected disability if:
• The veteran's disability is rated at 100%; or
• The veteran's service-connection is rated at less than 100%, but the veteran is paid at the 100% disability rate due to unemployability.

NOTE: Under either standard, the disability must be considered total and permanent. Veterans with temporary disabilities, no matter how severe, do not qualify.

Some Legislative History of the Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption

The problem: Colorado's voters defined "qualified disabled veteran via a Constitutional amendment (Referendum E). Presently the Colorado Division of Veterans Affairs unfairly excludes from the benefit qualified veterans with permanent "unemployability" VA awards, and also excludes veterans directly retired by the military services per permanent and total disability.

Military disability retired property tax relief for Colorado's totally disabled military veterans is based on the 2006 amendment to the state Constitution. The wording of the title of Referendum E is inclusive of any "United States Military veteran who is 100% permanently disabled due to a service-connected disability." 

Nowhere in the Constitution nor other legislation does the "unemployability"appear. It was added as an exemption only by extra-legal preference of the CDMVA, contrary to the Constitution.

Here is the full title, approved by the voters:
AN AMENDMENT TO SECTION 3.5 OF ARTICLE X OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE STATE OF COLORADO, CONCERNING THE EXTENSION OF THE EXISTING PROPERTY TAX EXEMPTION FOR QUALIFYING SENIORS TO ANY UNITED STATES MILITARY VETERAN WHO IS ONE HUNDRED PERCENT PERMANENTLY DISABLED DUE TO A SERVICE-CONNECTED DISABILITY
Here's the text of Referendum E's definition of "disabled veteran:"
(1.5) FOR PURPOSES OF THIS SECTION, "DISABLED VETERAN" MEANS AN INDIVIDUAL WHO HAS SERVED ON ACTIVE DUTY IN THE UNITED STATES ARMED FORCES, INCLUDING A MEMBER OF THE COLORADO NATIONAL yGUARD 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 OR A PENSION PURSUANT TO A LAW OR REGULATION ADMINISTERED BY THE DEPARTMENT, OR THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, NAVY, AIR FORCE, OR HOMELAND SECURITY. 
(note: There is a minor conflict between the referendum's pension language and its requirement that disabilities be service-connected – the VA pension program is based on low-income and need, not service-connected disabilities. There is no such thing as 100% service-connected disability pensions.)

The 2007 Legislature "fine tuned" Section 3.5 of Article X from the 2006 Constitutional amendment. It bypassed the voter-approved "any veteran," dropped the pension, but  very improperly redefined and restricted the definition of "qualifying veteran" by failure to adhere to the broad and inclusive language of the voter-approved referendum.
"(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 United States department of veterans affairs as one hundred percent permanent and total disability pursuant to a law or regulation administered by the department. "
The 2007 Legislature errored in its modification of the definition of "qualifying veteran" away from that approved by the electorate and per the Constitution. This amounted to an ex post facto law depriving many formerly qualified disabled veterans from the Constitution's protection regarding property tax. Further, this violates the US Constitution by depriving the affected veterans of their property (the tax benefit) without due process. From the Colorado Constitution's Bill of Rights:
"Section 11. Ex post facto laws. No ex post facto law, nor law impairing the obligation of contracts, or retrospective in its operation, or making any irrevocable grant of special privileges, franchises or immunities, shall be passed by the general assembly."

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The "Unemployability" Restriction on Disabled Veteran Property Tax Exemption, Overturning Voters' Constitutional Amendment

Wording on Colorado counties' disabled veteran property tax exemption forms:
The 2007 enabling legislation forces CMDVA to a somewhat restricted eligibility compared to the broader constitution's provisions::
"An individual who sustained a serviceconnected disability that has been rated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as 100% “permanent and total.” VA unemployability awards do not meet the requirement for determining an applicant’s eligibility."

Readers will please note that the word "unemployability" appears only on county forms and various state brochures describing the disabled veteran property tax program: nowhere does that exclusion exist in the law! It was simply added by CDMVA acting on legislative input.