Our country owes a debt of gratitude to its veterans who have risked everything and in many cases, suffered greatly to protect the United States. Gratitude for our service members is often expressed in words, but perhaps more meaningfully in the form of veterans’ benefits designed to recognize their sacrifice and offer needed support.
Unfortunately, the National Survey of Veterans conducted in 2010 by the VA discovered that over half of veterans responding—59%—had little or no understanding of the benefits available to them. That may be due to the complexity of benefit programs, as suggested by the Government Accountability office, or simply poor communication between the VA and the local agencies that administer veterans’ benefit programs. Either way, many veterans are missing out on benefits they have earned and which could make their lives easier.
One such benefit available to veterans is the homestead exemption, which can reduce or eliminate property taxes for disabled veterans. Property tax is a local tax, so property tax exemptions are offered at the state level and vary from state to state. However, almost every state offers some form of homestead exemption to disabled veterans, including Ohio.
As U.S. Senator Charles Schumer observed, property exemptions are intended to let military veterans “afford a home and live stable civilian lives” when their service is over. A property tax exemption protects a portion of a home’s value from taxation. In Ohio, for disabled veterans, the homestead exemption protects the first $50,000 of a home’s value from taxation.
For example, if a qualifying veteran owned a home that was valued at $125,000, the application of the full homestead exemption would mean that the house would be taxed as if it were worth $75,000: the value of the house minus the $50,000 exemption.
In order to qualify for the homestead exemption as a disabled veteran, you must own and live in the home, using it as your primary residence as of January 1 of the year for which you want to take the exemption.
You must also be a veteran of the United States Armed Forces. This includes veterans of the Reserves and the National Guard. You must have been honorably discharged or released from duty under honorable conditions. And you must have received a 100% disability rating for a service-connected disability or multiple service-connected disabilities. In addition to having lived in the home since at least January 1 of the year in which you are applying for the exemption, your name must be listed on the deed. If the property is held in a trust, you will need to provide documentation that you are a beneficiary of the trust.
Generally, proving ownership of the property, residence in the property, and qualifying military service is not difficult. The most challenging part of qualifying for the disabled veterans’ homestead exemption is proving 100% disability from a service-connected cause. You may be able to establish service connection in a number of ways. Essentially, you need to make a link between an injury-causing incident and your disability.
A direct service connection is clear and obvious; for instance, if your vehicle ran over an explosive device and you were paralyzed in the resulting accident, there is a clear service connection. Certain conditions are “presumed” to have a service connection. For instance, if you were exposed to Agent Orange and later develop Parkinson’s disease, your illness is presumed service-connected even though you may not be able to prove the causal link.
If you have a disability caused by military service, and that disability leads to another, that is known as a secondary service connection. For instance, if you were infected with a disease as a result of military service and a rare side effect of the infection treatment caused vision loss, the vision loss would have a secondary service connection. You may also be able to claim service connection if a pre-existing injury was aggravated by military service or your injury was actually caused by treatment in the VA health care system.
The first step is to fill out the application form (DTE105A). This application is available at the websites for your county Auditor or the Ohio Department of Taxation. File the form with your county Auditor. Your signature, in ink, must be on the original form; you cannot file a copy. (But do keep a copy for your records.) Unfortunately, the form has not been able to be filed electronically in the past. Contact your county Auditor to determine if any accommodations exist in light of COVID-19 or other health-related issues.
You must also submit proof of your disability with your application. As a disabled veteran, that proof should come in the form of a letter from the VA stating that you have applied for the status of individual un-employability and that status has been granted, along with a copy of your DD 214 separation documents.
If you have other questions about the disabled veterans’ homestead exemption in Ohio, please contact Gudorf Law Group to schedule a consultation.