- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I understand that Virginia now offers a property tax exemption for disabled veterans. What is the procedure for establishing this eligibility?

Billy W.
Via the Internet

Dear Billy,

Those in the know tell me that veterans rated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as having a 100-percent, permanent and total, service-connected disability are exempt from paying real estate taxes on their primary residence. The exemption is based on the veteran’s disability rating rather than the level of compensation. The exemption includes property held jointly by a husband and wife, and applies to the residence and up to one acre of land.

The surviving spouse of an eligible veteran may also receive the real estate tax exemption if the veteran died on or after Jan. 1, 2011. The spouse will lose the exemption if he or she remarries or does not occupy the property as his or her primary residence. For more information, contact the commissioner of the revenue for your locality (http://www.vacomrev.com/web/guest/District/ViewAll Localities?p_p_state=normal).

Shaft notes

• MarineParents.com Inc. and its Gold Star Family Support Group are heartened by the recent proposal to clarify rules related to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as they affect military members and their families.

However, while acknowledging the important role of caregiver for a wounded service member, the proposed rules do not go far enough. In our view, the parents of service members who have died should also be covered by these new regulations. These families experience an unimaginable grief that has a direct impact on not only physical and mental health, but how it manifests itself in the workplace.

We urge the Department of Labor to broaden the scope of its proposal and to mirror the language in the Farley-Kluger Amendment to the FMLA of 1993 (www.farleykluger.com), which petitions Congress to amend the Act to include time off for the loss of a child.

In 2011, The Senate Bereavement Act of 2011, inspired by the Farley-Kluger Amendment, and introduced by Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, proposed the FMLA extend leave options. We believe there is no better time than now to include any and all loss of a child.

• Following the Secretary of Defense’s announcement outlining the Department’s FY 2013 budget request, the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) advised House and Senate leaders of the association’s strong opposition to proposals aimed at significantly reducing military retirement benefits. In a letter to leaders of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees — Sens. Carl Levin (Michigan) and John McCain (Arizona), Reps. Hugh McKeon (California) and Adam Smith (Washington) — FRA National President Jeffrey Gilmartin outlined the concerns of past, present and future service members who are increasingly concerned about pending cuts to the Defense budget.

During a recent press briefing, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, announced advance details of the FY 2013 Defense budget, that will include a new TRICARE-for-Life enrollment fee for Medicare-eligible military retirees, substantially increased health care and pharmacy costs for all retired service members and a commission to explore “cost-effective” changes to the existing military retirement system.

“Many of these retirees were promised free health care for life in return for careers of service with low pay and often arduous duty and associated sacrifices,” Mr. Gilmartin explained in the letter. “The majority of them retired from the enlisted ranks with significantly less retired pay than more recent retirees who’ve benefited from significant (and long overdue) pay and benefit enhancements enacted since 2000. These older retirees are increasingly anxious about plans to impose a TRICARE-for-Life fee and increase TRICARE Prime premiums above and beyond the 13-percent hike and future CPI-indexed adjustments authorized for this year.”

Despite endorsements from senior uniformed leaders, there are also serious concerns within the career force — tomorrow’s retirees — about proposals to revise the military retirement program.

“Based on response to FRA’s recent online survey, those currently serving are gravely concerned that amending retirement benefits will negatively impact recruiting, retention and overall military readiness,” Mr. Gilmartin said.

FRA also called on the lawmakers to honor commitments made to those who served in the past as well as safeguard the interests of those serving today and in the future.

“Military service is unlike any other career or occupation and providing benefits commensurate with the associated level of service and sacrifices is part of the cost of defending this nation,” Mr. Gilmartin said.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs partnered with the First Army at Camp Shelby, Miss., to launch a streamlined version of its online application for VA health benefits (VA Form 1010EZ) for service members returning from deployment. VA will introduce it at demobilization sites nationwide by early spring 2012.

“This online application demonstrates VA’s commitment to work with the Department of Defense to make it easier for service members to get the care they earned by their service,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “The new, online system noticeably reduces the paperwork and reduces a 10-day process to three days.”

The application is used to enroll in the VA health care system, which has more than 1,000 sites of care across the country.

Enrollment for VA health care is done as part of a service member’s demobilization. The online form allows the application to be completed during a regularly scheduled briefing for all service members on VA benefits.

Quick enrollment is important for returning troops because recently discharged combat veterans are eligible for five years of cost-free care and medications for conditions potentially related to combat service.

The new application was piloted as part of the demobilization process at Camp Shelby. Based on the results, VA plans to collaborate with DoD to offer this online application at all 61 demobilization sites nationally.

For more information, service members may contact VA at 1-877-222 VETS (8387) or visit VA’s health eligibility website at www.va.gov/healthbenefits.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.