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Volume 12 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 15

Opinions of Counsel index

Alternative veterans exemption (computation) (multiple combat zone service) - Real Property Tax Law § 458-a:

An individual qualified to receive the combat zone portion of the alternative veterans exemption may receive but a single such exemption no matter whether the veteran received one or more than one qualifying medals or ribbons for service during one or multiple periods of war or expeditionary operations.

Our opinion has been requested regarding the alternative veterans exemption (Real Property Tax Law, § 458-a). A particular veteran served in a combat zone during World War II, was honorably discharged, but chose to remain in the reserves. He was called back to active duty and served in a combat zone during the Korean War. The question is if the veteran may qualify for two combat zone exemptions. We think not.

The alternative veterans exemption contains three parts: a basic exemption (15% of assessed value) for wartime veterans and expeditionary medal recipients (RPTL, § 458-a(2)(a)), an additional exemption (10% of assessed value) for documented service in a combat zone (§ 458-a(2)(b)), and a third exemption for a service-connected disability (equal to one-half the disability rating - § 458-a(2)(c)). Each part is subject to a dollar limitation or “cap” set by the municipality offering the exemption. {1}

The exemption is available to “qualifying residential real property” which is defined, in part, as “property owned by a qualified owner” (§ 458-a(1)(d)). A “qualified owner” for purposes of the exemption is:

a veteran, the spouse of a veteran or the unremarried surviving spouse of a veteran. Where property is owned by more than one qualified owner, the exemption to which each is entitled may be combined. Where a veteran is also the unremarried surviving spouse of a veteran, such person may also receive any exemption to which the deceased spouse was entitled (§458-a(1)(c)).

We discussed this provision in 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 114 and concluded that: “Where a municipality has opted to grant alternative veterans exemptions to Gold Star Parents [per § 458-a(7)], a Gold Star Parent, who is the sole owner of property, and who also otherwise qualifies for the alternative exemption, may receive but one such exemption.” That is, the provision permitting a single individual to receive two alternative veterans exemptions is limited solely to an individual who is both a veteran and the unremarried surviving spouse of a veteran.

A “veteran” for purposes of the exemption is defined as a person “who served in the active military, naval, or air service during a period of war, or who was a recipient of . . . [an] expeditionary medal, and who was discharged or released therefrom under honorable conditions . . .” (RPTL, § 458-a(1)(e)).{2}  We have said: “To receive any exemption pursuant to section 458-a, however, an individual must be a ‘veteran’ as such term is defined in section 458-a(1)(e) or be one of the near relatives of such a veteran as prescribed in that law” (10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 52). So, one cannot receive the combat zone exemption or the disability rating exemption (or both) unless one first qualifies for the basic exemption.

We have also previously opined that once an individual qualifies for the alternative veterans exemption, that eligibility is not affected by subsequent military service (8 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 103). That opinion concerned a veteran who was honorably discharged after service in World War II but who was “undesirably” discharged after later service during the Korean War.

It seems clear that a veteran who served honorably during two (or more) periods of war or who served honorably and received two or more expeditionary medals is not entitled to receive more than one basic exemption. Rather, except for a veteran who is also the unremarried surviving spouse of a veteran, in our opinion, an individual qualified owner may receive but one alternative veterans exemption comprised of however many parts to which that person may be entitled. It necessarily follows, we think, that an individual qualified owner may qualify for but a single combat zone exemption no matter whether the veteran received one or more than one qualifying medals or ribbons for service during one or multiple periods of war or expeditionary operations.{3}  The statute could provide otherwise, but, in our opinion, it does not currently do so.

October 30, 2008


{1}  The caps are discussed in 12 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 2.

{2}  The definition of “veteran” also includes certain World War II merchant mariners and civilian employees who assisted military operations.

{3}  Based upon advice we receive from the NYS Division of Veterans’ Affairs, we list medals and ribbons qualifying veterans for the combat zone exemption in the Assessor’s Manual posted on our website. Note that multiple medals or ribbons are listed for several periods of war and that expeditionary medals have been awarded for some overlapping periods of time. It is not unusual for a veteran to have received more than one listed medal or ribbon.

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