Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Veterans have trouble getting promised tax break because of paperwork problems

Getting Florida voters to agree to give wounded veterans a property tax break was, it turns out, much easier than actually giving them the discount.

Just more than 60 percent of Florida voters in November approved a constitutional amendment that expanded an existing property tax discount for home-owning veterans and made it exponentially more inclusive. But in opening the door to thousands more veterans, the change also has spawned confusion and uncertainty over how the law should be applied.

To qualify for the discount, veterans must show proof that they were injured in combat. But property appraisers across the Tampa Bay area said that veterans are having a difficult time producing paperwork to show the cause of their disability.

Compounding this problem is the sudden boom in the number of veteran applicants.

In 2010, only 1,206 veterans in Florida qualified for the tax discount because it required them to have lived in the state at the time they joined the military, said Steve Murray, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. Amendment 2 removed that initial residency requirement and now an estimated 74,000 veterans could qualify, according to the veterans affairs agency.

"The problem is there are so many people applying now," said Alene Tarter, director of benefits and assistance at the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. "I spoke to (an official in) a rather large county this morning who said in the past three years they had only handled one of these and now they're being deluged."

Pinellas County, where thousands of veterans have settled, is having an especially hard time handling the flood of applicants. Over 500 veterans have applied, said Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.

In a typical case, she said, a veteran will apply for the discount and show a letter from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs called a DD-214 form. It lists their injury and their disability percentage, a rating to indicate how disabled they are. Someone who lost his hearing during wartime might have a 10 percent disability rating; a veteran who lost a limb could have an 80 percent rating. The higher the rating, the bigger the discount.

The problem, Dubov said, is that these letters rarely say how the veteran was injured.

"Sometimes we can figure it out anyway," she said. "If a guy comes in and says, 'I was in Vietnam and my right hand got blown off.' I can see that he did serve, that he got a Purple Heart. There are ways of piecing it together one guy at a time. But sometimes it's just not possible."

Proving a veteran is eligible for the discount can be especially complicated if he has an invisible wound, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

According to Tarter, veterans' disability rating decisions should contain information about whether they were wounded in combat. If not, veterans should be able to get that information from national service organizations like the American Red Cross or Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But property appraisers said it has not been that simple.

In Hillsborough County, only 29 people have been approved to receive the discount and new applications are trickling in, said the county's exemption supervisor, Marilyn Martinez. Many veterans who were approved for the discount have had to get letters from their branch of service proving that they were injured in combat, she said.

However, the service branches are not always able to provide proof, said Paulette Stearns, who oversees the exemptions for Hernando County.

"This has been such a problem," she said.

In Pasco County, only 18 people have applied for the discount, but there, the property appraiser has been less strict.

When residents bring in the form that shows they are veterans with a disability, "we accept that at face value," said Wade Barber, the county's chief deputy property appraiser.

To send veterans on a hunt for documents to prove their injuries took place during combat "might be splitting hairs at the expense of people," he said.

But Dubov said she already has encountered at least one veteran whose claim to a combat-related injury was dubious. While digging through his forms, she found one from Veterans Affairs saying the agency could not prove he had been wounded in combat.

"I don't want to give away the store, but I also don't want to make people jump through hoops who have served honorably," she said. "What I'd like to do is not have every one of these be a mystery."

Anna M. Phillips can be reached at or (727) 893-8779.

Veterans have trouble getting promised tax break because of paperwork problems 01/12/13 [Last modified: Saturday, January 12, 2013 9:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  2. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  3. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.
  4. South Korea military: North Korea fires unidentified projectile


    SEOUL — North Korea launched a ballistic missile early today that flew 280 miles and landed in Japan's exclusive economic zone, the South Korean military and the Japanese government said.

    S. Korean President Moon Jae-in is assessing the launch.
  5. Rays blow lead, rally, blow lead, rally again to beat Twins in 15 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays sure made it interesting Sunday, taking an early lead, watching their beleaguered bullpen blow it, rallying to tie in the ninth, battling the Twins to take a lead in the 14th then giving it up again.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 28: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on May 28, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010990