- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 6, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — State officials are trying to determine whether hundreds of Virginians erred — or lied — when claiming a state tax deduction intended for Medal of Honor recipients.

Only four men alive today in Virginia received the Medal of Honor, which is the nation’s highest military honor, awarded for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty. But 642 persons claimed the state tax deduction when it was offered for the first time in 2001.

It is a federal crime to impersonate a Medal of Honor recipient.

The state told the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot it will track down the taxpayers and require those who made incorrect claims to pay their debts plus penalties. However, tax department officials acknowledged it would be difficult to prosecute anyone for fraud because it is too hard to prove the intent to deceive.

“I can’t fathom why people would do things like that,” said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Howard V. Lee of Virginia Beach, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in a 1967 White House ceremony.

The Marine officer helped rescue a reconnaissance unit in Vietnam even though he had been temporarily blinded in one eye by fragments from an enemy hand grenade.

Col. Lee said he was more surprised than angry at the number of people claiming the tax deduction. “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a mistake,” he said.

There are only 132 living recipients of the Medal of Honor.

In 2000, the General Assembly passed a law allowing medal recipients to deduct their military pensions when they tabulate their state taxes.

State Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, introduced the legislation after learning that similar tax deductions are offered in other states.

Janie E. Bowen, executive commissioner for policy and administration at the state tax department, said $1.6 million in income was exempted from taxes due to the deduction in 2001, the most recent data available. She said tax officials have not yet calculated the amount of revenue lost by false claims. Based on the average state income tax rate of 4.5 percent, the loss could be about $70,000.

Miss Bowen said analysts are examining the returns to determine whether filers used the wrong two-digit identification numbers to claim their deduction.

The code number for the Medal of Honor deduction is 44. Other deductions with identification numbers in the low 40s include one for assets returned to Holocaust victims, one for tobacco farmers, one for landowners who dedicate property for open space and one for donations to a public school construction program.

Not everyone is ready to believe that the tax filers made innocent errors.

Randy Lee Everette of Virginia Beach operated a Web site exposing people who falsely claimed to be Medal of Honor recipients until he became overwhelmed with reports of fraud and had to give up the project. He said the list of names on his site grew to about 130.


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