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Attention Veterans and Widows/Widowers of “Service-Connected” Disabled Veterans in Illinois!

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To the editor:

My heart goes out to all widows/widowers who have lost their loved ones who served their country. And if their loved ones were the main providers I know all too well, not only having to deal with the shock and despondency over losing your loved one, but also the panic and anxiety of how you will now be able to make ends meet. I am sure that for many as it was for me, you had to sell your homes and rearrange your lives. My husband was not blessed with disabilities from the Vietnam War, but he was blessed when the VA deemed his disabilities to be “service-connected” and gave him a percentage of disability pay each month. He also received the Standard Homestead Exemption for Veterans with Disabilities being a service-connected veteran.

What I found out recently was quite by accident, and although it is a blessing, I would gladly give up this blessing to have my husband and best friend back. Nonetheless, I vowed I would write about this in hopes of getting word out to veterans who are experiencing disabilities due to their service and urge them to apply to the VA and see if they qualify for VA service-connected disability payments, as well as widows/widowers of service-connected veterans who WERE receiving disability payments from the VA. You can contact your county Veterans Assistance Commissioner who will walk you through everything veteran-related, or you can opt to go to the VA directly.

I must have missed the news articles when they came out, so were it not for a friend of mine attending a seminar I would not have known that Governor Rauner, in August of 2015, signed bills into law that would not only help and Increase “service-connected” veterans with various property tax exemptions, but their widows as well. (Widows can’t have remarried).

A service-connected veteran means 1) a veteran who has sustained physical and/or emotional injuries due to serving their country, 2) has sought compensation assistance for these injuries through the VA, and, 3) the VA is paying them a certain amount; percentage-wise in disability payments.

When my husband was alive, he qualified for the standard Homestead Exemption for veterans with ‘service-connected’ disabilities. We got a property tax ‘break’ because of this exemption. We still ended up paying property taxes …just a lesser amount. This exemption applied only to my husband so when he died in 2013, as his widow, this property exemption ended.

When my husband died he was deemed 90% service-connected (disabled) through the VA due to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving over in Vietnam which resulted in many health issues, and eventually ended up taking his life in February 2013. As a widow, when the majority of our income came from my husband, especially in the days when full-time jobs are hard to come by and you can only rely on part-time jobs, I have found it a struggle to make ends meet as I live check-to-check, not to mention the absolute void of having my best friend with me.

A friend of mine who works for an agency serving the senior population in another county was attending some training seminars a couple weeks ago; one of which was on veteran’s benefits. When she got home, she told me that as a widow, (and according to the percentage the VA deemed my husband ‘service-connected disabled’), I qualified for not paying any Illinois property taxes at all.

Even after my friend told me this I did a search and could not find any articles in my or the surrounding county’s newspapers about this. I thought this had to be one of Illinois’ best-kept secrets!

My friend gave me the name and phone number of the gal who gave the veterans seminar who was a Veterans Assistance Commissioner in another county, as my county’s Veterans Assistance Commissioner position was recently created and he was in training. After submitting my husband’s VA award letter that stipulated his disabilities were “Service-Connected” and the percentage the VA deemed him disabled, I was told I qualified.

How much of a property tax exemption the veteran or his widow/widower receives is based on the percentage the VA has deems (or deemed) the veteran as disabled. The bill Governor Rauner signed greatly increased the ‘disabled homestead exemption’.

Here’s the law that seems to be Illinois’ best- kept secret:

The following qualifications must be met to receive the Standard Homestead
Exemption for Veterans with Disabilities (SHEVD) under 35 ILCS 200/15-169:

“Be a veteran (i.e., an Illinois resident who has served as a member of the United States Armed Forces on active duty or State active duty, a member of the Illinois National Guard, or a member of the United States Reserve Forces and who has received an honorable discharge.)”

Have a service-connected disability of at least 30 percent that is issued by the
United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Qualifying property must be residential real property (any portion that is used for commercial purposes does not qualify).

[to top of second column in this letter]

Own and occupy the property as primary residence on January 1 of the assessment year or lease and occupy a single family residence on January 1 of the assessment year and be liable for the payment of property taxes.

Property’s equalized assessed value (EAV) after state equalization, is less than $250,000. (Any portion of the property owned by a veteran with a disability that he or she rents to another individual or entity for more than 6 months is presumed to be used for commercial purposes.)

Public Act 99-375 increases the exemption amounts in 35 ILCS 200/15 -169 and
lowers the service -connected disability threshold to qualify for the exemption
beginning with the 2015 tax year for property taxes payable in 2016.

Senate Bill 107 provides a multi-tiered set of exemptions from local property taxes for homeowners who have a service-connected injury, with a disability of at least 30 percent.

1) A reduction in equalized assessed value (EAV) of property of $2500 is granted if the percentage of service-connected disability is between 30% but less then 50%.

2) A reduction in EAV of $5000 is granted if the percentage of service disability is at least 50 percent but less than 70 percent.

3) A total exemption from taxes is granted if the percentage of service -connected disability is at least 70 percent to 100 percent.

Our county tax bureau did know about this bill, they just weren’t advertising it. Our county Veterans Assistance Commissioner, who was recently hired and was in training did not know about this bill but he learned quickly; and our County Treasurer’s office did not know about this bill either; as I stated….this is Illinois’ best- kept secret.

Normally, you would take the following items to your own county’s Veterans Assistance Commissioner, who would verify the information, then they would give you a form to take to your county Tax Board office, where you would then fill out the tax board’s disability form. Since my county’s Veterans Assistance Commissioner did not yet have the form as he was in training, I needed to take the following to our county Tax Office:

1) My marriage certificate
2) My husband’s death certificate
3) My husband’s VA award letter that states the % of service-connected disability the VA was paying him disability for
4) Something stating I owned was living at and paying taxes on this property on January 1st of 2016, of which I submitted my paid tax bill from 2015 showing it was paid in installments in 2016.

I then filled out the county tax board’s form. I asked if I go could back retroactively to recoup any of the taxes I shouldn’t have been paying the prior year, (2015). They told me yes and that you can only go back ONE TAX YEAR, so I would get a refund for the 2015 taxes I paid. They told me my refund check would be issued by the County Treasurer’s Office.

Just so you know: On August 17, 2015, Governor Bruce Rauner signed 5B 107 into law as Public Act 99- 0375.

Governor Rauner also signed into law that day, the Veterans with Disabilities Exemption for Specially-Adapted Housing Act. (35 ILCS 200/15-165)

This exemption may be up to a $100,000 reduction on the assessed value for certain types of housing owned and used exclusively by a veteran with a disability in which federal funds have been used for the purchase or construction of specially adapted housing. The exemption is valid for as long as the veteran, the spouse, or the unmarried surviving spouse resides on the property. Federal and state financial assistance is provided for service-connected veterans with disabilities for the purpose of acquiring or remodeling suitable dwelling units with special fixtures or moveable facilities made necessary by the veteran’s permanent and total service-connected disabilities as determined by the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Beginning with the 2015 tax year, the exemption also applies to housing that is specifically constructed or adapted to suit a qualifying veteran’s disability if the housing or adaptations are donated by a charitable organization, and the veteran has been approved to receive funds or the purchase or construction of Specially Adapted Housing through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. This exemption is also available on a mobile home owned and used exclusively by a veteran with a disability or his or her spouse.

For a single tax year, the property cannot receive this exemption and the Homestead Exemption for Persons with Disabilities or Standard Homestead Exemption for Veterans with Disabilities.

http://tax.illinois.gov/LocalGovernment/ PropertyTax/taxrelief.htm

Well, I hope this information gets spread far and wide and helps some ‘service-connected’ Illinois veterans and/or their widows-widowers as I know that every little bit helps. It was truly an act of God that my friend attended that seminar and told me about this, so I am ‘paying it forward’ in trying to share this information.

Carey Gave

[Posted October 8, 2016]

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