Bobby Jefcoat column

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 10, 2007

Guest column by veterans’ advocate Bobby Jefcoat

Tax break sought for veterans who are 100 percent disabled by combat-related conditions

On January 2 and 4, 2007, three bills were introduced in the Mississippi Senate and House of Representatives. These bills would have given full homestead tax exemptions to Mississippians who had been declared 100 percent permanently and totally disabled by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would also have extended this tax break to the un-remarried spouses of these veterans who were deceased.

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Not one of the bills was even brought to a vote! These bills were introduced with a personal pledge to me to “push hard” to get these bills passed.

I contacted several county tax collectors across the state and found, in my opinion, the cost of the bills to the taxpayers would be negligible, especially in light of what these veterans gave for their country.

I admit I only know what I see about how politics work. That is, changes are made only when people are publicly made aware of a situation and make known their disapproval, i.e. the recent Walter Reed hospital scandal in Washington.

To my amazement, “pushing hard” to get a bill passed apparently does not mean asking other Senators to help support a bill — at least that was my experience. I contacted the members of the committee responsible for voting on the bill. Of those who answered, every one said they were in favor of the bill, but not one senator told me they had been asked to help support the bill to get it out of committee for a vote.

I have personally written, faxed, and e-mailed the governor’s office to ask whether he would support these bills. Unfortunately there has been NO response. Other states have shown their support for this class of veterans. Most politicians, when asked if they support legislation such as this, will send a form letter stating, “I support Disabled Veterans,” which means absolutely nothing but words on a sheet of paper and postage wasted.

To support takes action! Action means spending taxpayers’ money for worthy causes, NOT building bridges to nowhere. Action means funding the VA Medical Centers so that doctors in a small rural ER with a critically ill, 100 percent-service-connected, combat-related disabled Veteran will not be told by the VA Medical Center, “Don’t send him here, we have no place for him.” This happened to a personal friend in Panola County who died Memorial Day 2007.

Politicians who make the decisions that affect the support of veterans who gave all and their spouses, should spend time thinking about walking a mile in the shoes of those who have “been there,” because a lot of them had “other priorities when called to serve.”

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated in a ruling for veterans decided on July 20, 2007, “The performance of the Department of Veterans Affairs has contributed substantially to our sense of National Shame.” The Department of Veterans affairs is only doing the will of the politicians on a federal level.

Our state level politicians apparently count their own wills above the will of the people. Since the passage of the bill granting full homestead exemption involves only a small number of deserving veterans, and not a corporate interest, their votes are not a large enough block to be concerned with. It will only happen if the people want it to happen and feel these veterans and also, (after their deaths, their un-remarried spouses), deserve a little better tax break than those who merely turn 65 years of age.

If you believe this to be the case, will you contact your state representative and senator?