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