If OK’d, disabled veterans’ benefit to double
Over breakfast one morning last week, Thomas Jarreau ran through a list of injuries and ailments he’s suffered since his days as a soldier in Vietnam during the 1970s.
He mentioned the bullet wound in his left shoulder that happened when he was an 18-year-old sniper with the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in June 1970.
“There were four of us in the helicopter. We were going to help some of our comrades who were pinned down,” Jarreau said. “We were taking bullets and mortars on that day.”
Next, Jarreau listed the ailments he’s contracted since leaving Vietnam — illnesses, he said, that are directly related to his exposure to Agent Orange, a herbicide the U.S. military used in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
“I have diabetes, heart disease and Parkinson’s,” he said. “Those are all associated with Agent Orange.”
Jarreau, 61, of Denham Springs, said he is one of a number of veterans statewide who hope that voters approve the Disabled Veterans Homestead Exemption proposal on the Oct. 22 ballot in 42 parishes.
The proposition doubles the state’s homestead exemption for 100 percent disabled veterans and their spouses, Pointe Coupee Parish Assessor James Laurent Jr. said.
Louisiana homeowners are currently exempt from paying property taxes on the first $75,000 of the assessed value of an owner-occupied home, he said.
If voters approve the proposition, the first $150,000 of a qualifying veteran’s home would be exempt, Laurent said.
The proposition only applies to veterans who have been rated 100 percent disabled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said Richard Blackwell, a deputy assistant secretary with the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs.
The disability has to be service connected, but not necessarily incurred as a result of combat, Blackwell said.
A 100 percent disability rating, he added, “can be one condition or numerous conditions. The VA has a method of coming up with the ratings based on a combination of factors.”
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, R-Denham Springs, spearheaded the effort to get the proposition on the ballot.
“A group of disabled veterans came to see me and asked me to look at something other states have done,” Pope said. “I felt like our veterans have done a lot to contribute to our safety and welfare. I thought it was worthwhile.”
Pope authored the proposition as a constitutional amendment during the 2010 legislative session.
Louisiana voters passed the amendment by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent in November, according to state records.
That vote cleared the way for each parish to place the proposition on the October ballot, Pope said.
The proposition was written to have the least effect on individuals, he said.
“I didn’t want it to impact homeowners,” he said. “It’ll impact local governments.”
Officials in some parishes estimated the amount of lost revenue if the proposition were to pass, including $22,000 in Ascension Parish, $1,706 in Assumption Parish and $1,200 in East Feliciana Parish.
Due to privacy laws and other factors, officials in other parishes near Baton Rouge could not pinpoint the exact number of veterans who would be impacted by the proposition, or the amount of lost revenue each parish would face if the proposition passes.
Pope estimated a statewide loss of revenue at about $900,000.
West Baton Rouge Parish Assessor Barney “Frog” Altazan said veterans can visit their local assessor’s office with documentation proving they’ve been rated 100 percent disabled to have the increased exemption applied to their homes if voters approve the proposition.
At least one family strongly supports the proposition.
Jarreau, the Vietnam veteran, said an increased homestead exemption would give his wife, Georgia, 57, increased security.
After being together for 36 years, the couple said they are busy enjoying time with their daughters, Martha Louann, 35, and Alicia, 30, and their grandson Jack Owen Jarreau Haynes, 4.
“But this is mainly about my spouse,” Thomas Jarreau said. “When I pass away, my VA check will be cut by 60 percent for her. She’ll be a widow. That exemption will really help her.”
Early voting runs through Saturday.
Parishes with the proposition on the Oct. 22 ballot:
1. Acadia Parish
2. Ascension Parish
3. Assumption Parish
4. Avoyelles Parish
5. Bienville Parish
6. Bossier Parish
7. Caddo Parish
8. Calcasieu Parish
9. Caldwell Parish
10. Cameron Parish
11. Concordia Parish
12. DeSoto Parish
13. East Baton Rouge Parish
14. East Feliciana Parish
15. Franklin Parish
16. Grant Parish
17. Iberia Parish
18. Jefferson Davis Parish
19. Lafayette Parish
20. Lafourche Parish
21. LaSalle Parish
22. Livingston Parish
23. Morehouse Parish
24. Nachitoches Parish
25. Ouachita Parish
26. Plaquemines Parish
27. Pointe Coupee Parish
28. Rapides Parish
29. Richland Parish
30. St. Bernard Parish
31. St. Helena Parish
32. St. John the Baptist Parish
33. St. Landry Parish
34. St. Mary Parish
35. St. Tammany Parish
36. Tangipahoa Parish
37. Terrebonne Parish
38. Union Parish
39. Vermillion Parish
40. Washington Parish
41. Webster Parish
42.West Baton Rouge Parish