By MARTHA KNIGHT Era Correspondent
SMETHPORT — Matt Windsor, McKean County Director of Veterans Affairs, wants everyone to know exactly how the Disabled Veterans’ Real Estate Tax Exemption program works.
To that end, Windsor attended a recent meeting of the McKean County Commissioners, and distributed a handout from the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
What had stimulated recent interest in the program, and inspired Windsor’s attendance of the meeting, was a mention by commissioner chairman Joe DeMott, reported by the press, of the exemption program, with some added words of praise.
That had led to a spike in inquiries and applications, Windsor said. He hopes more press attention could help other veterans, and even widows or widowers of veterans, know up front whether they might be eligible.
Outreach by Windsor’s office may be a reason for real property tax exemptions for disabled veterans having increased from a handful to around 60 since he began his activities. Hard times, and an increase in the number of veterans in the county, and in disabilities being diagnosed, could be other factors.
Some veterans and families will understand up front, from the guidelines, that they are not eligible for the exemption. Others may learn that they are or probably are, and that it makes sense for them to apply.
A major criterion is found in the term “disabled,” the first word in the name of the property tax exemption program. Local taxing authorities shorten the term to “veteran’s exemption” when acting on a measure to grant a tax exemption as requested by a given individual. That was how DeMott had referred to the program, too.
However, to be eligible for the property tax exemption, a veteran must have served honorably (have received an honorable discharge), be 100 percent disabled, live in Pennsylvania, and have a financial need.
Like any other government agency that provides a benefit to individuals, Veterans Affairs has an application process and requires proofs.
Military service must have occurred during a war service period. The dates of service can be used to prove that, and so can certain decorations: Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Navy Expeditionary Medal are mentioned.
The disability must be rated as permanent and 100 percent, and must be service connected.
Blindness as a qualifying disability is defined as visual acuity of three-sixtieths or ten 200ths or less (or five percent) of normal vision.
Paraplegia is another qualifying disability, and is defined as bilateral paralysis of the upper or lower extremities.