After serving their country, veterans served by voters

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After serving their country, veterans served by voters
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When John Patterson took possession of his mothers house after she died, he also inherited her property taxes until voters decided the disabled veteran had done enough service for his country. 
    
Voters overwhelmingly affirmed Ballot Question No. 2 on November 2, a constitutional amendment exempting 100-percent-disabled veterans from local property taxes. For Patterson, a Vietnam War veteran and double-amputee, the change will save him roughly $5,000 annually. 
    
That would be $5,000 less than I have to pay that I can put into the house, he said. Its incredible; its great.
    
Patterson, 63, lost his first leg in 2000 and his second in 2004, both to diabetes, a disease brought on by his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam in 1967. He doesnt blame the Army; given the choice of weeding the U.S. bases by hand, hed still pick using the chemical, but appreciates the recognition by his neighbors.
    
A relatively small group of veterans has earned the exemption, said Del. David Englin, who joined the Air Force at 17. Only those rated as totally disabled by the Veterans Administration qualify. A soldier who lost both arms and legs while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan shouldnt have to worry about real estate taxes, he said. 
    
Another way to think about it is when we talk about people giving their lives for their country, usually we think about somebody who has died, Englin said. These are people who have given their lives, but didnt die. Exempting this small group of heroes from real estate taxes in Virginia is the least we can do to make sure we have a supportive and welcoming environment for veterans.
    
That includes Navy veteran and West End resident Mark Harvey, a 45-year-old quadriplegic who broke his neck in a diving accident while training near Virginia Beach in 1990. He has a vehicle loans, a mortgage payment and condo fees to pay off. One less bill is a good thing, he said.
    
While pleased with the voters decision, Harvey still worries his exempt status might put an extra financial burden on the city or his fellow taxpayers. 
    
Im not just saying this because Im exempt well maybe I am we need the money and where else is it going to come from if they take off the tax? he asked. If you dont tax, where are we going to get the money?
    
John Maki of the Disabled American Veterans believes the amendment wont hurt local coffers too much. About 7,300 veterans or their spouses qualify for exemption statewide, he said. 
    
Virginia isnt the first to waive property taxes for disabled veterans, he said. Other states, like Maryland, have similar laws on the books.  
    
We think its a very good thing, Maki said. The military bases and military activity in the state is a huge part of states economy.
    
It also makes Virginia more attractive to veterans, disabled or not. Its a nice gesture to make in a state home to so many active servicemen and women, he said.
    
Giving the Commonwealth a more veteran-friendly image is an added advantage to the constitutional change, according to Englin. 
    
In addition to helping a small group of veterans, the larger goal is making Virginia as welcoming as we can to veterans and military retirees who are good for our economy, he said. When you consider that Virginia is home to the largest naval base in the world, the Pentagon, the very heart of the U.S. military, [property tax exemption] is something that I think is appropriate for Virginia to do.

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