New property tax exemption helps thousands of disabled vets in Cook County
Loop North News

The Home Front
Veterans who own homes in Cook County and are at least 70 percent disabled pay zero dollars in property taxes. But many have not applied for the Disabled Veterans Exemption.

27-Dec-21 – Few Vietnam War veterans had the steel nerves of Robert Duvall in the role of Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in the 1979 film, Apocalypse Now.

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning,” said Duvall (right) in the movie, one of the most compelling war pictures ever made.

American Zoetrope

War is hell, and most Americans would agree that disabled war veterans deserve more than a Purple Heart and an honorable discharge for their service.

That’s why in 2015, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law that calls for disabled veterans to receive a substantial reduction on property taxes. In many cases the vets pay zero dollars in taxes if the United States Department of Veterans Affairs certifies the homeowner is at least 70 percent disabled.

Today, 6,083 homeowners in Cook County who earned the Disabled Veterans Standard Homeowner Exemption from Assessor Fritz Kaegi are exempt from paying property taxes. Collectively the exemption saves these disabled vets $33.1 million in property taxes – an average of $5,450 per property.

The Disabled Veterans Exemption gives an annual reduction of the equalized assessed value (EAV) of the vet’s primary residence, providing the property is occupied on January 1 of the assessment year. The amount of the exemption depends on the percentage of disability as certified by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A 70 percent disabled vet is exempt from paying property taxes. A disabled vet with 50 to 69 percent service-connected disability will receive a $5,000 reduction in EAV. A vet with 30 to 49 percent disability will receive a $2,500 reduction in EAV.

In Chicago – and all of Cook County – the exemption lasts for a disabled veteran’s entire life, though it must be reapplied for every year, with certification from the VA that the applicant remains at least 30 percent disabled. When the vet dies, his or her surviving spouse can continue to collect the benefit unless the surviving spouse remarries.

Adobe Stock

Among the proof required to receive the tax break for disabled veterans in Illinois is a letter from the VA spelling out the percentage of a vet’s service-related disability.

To receive the disability rating, vets must provide the VA with proof from private or military doctors of the following:

• A current physical or mental health problem.

• An injury, disease, or exposure to something toxic that occurred while they were in the military.

• Evidence that the current health problem stems from something that occurred during their service.

Qualifying disability conditions may include chronic back pain, severe hearing loss, scar tissue, ulcers, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and traumatic brain injuries. A vet could be rated 50 percent disabled for sleep apnea or flat feet.

Monetary rewards can be substantial. One Northwest Side vet who was severely wounded in Vietnam combat in 1966 has paid no property taxes on his modest three-bedroom ranch home for the past 6.5 years beginning in mid-2015.

In 2006, before he qualified for the disability exemption at the 70 percent level, his property taxes were $5,234 and in 2007 they peaked at $6,897. That’s an average tax bill of $6,110 for the two years.

Over the next seven years, from 2008 through 2014, via aggressive appeals and the Homeowner Exemption and Senior Exemption, the tax bill averaged only $3,272 per year. So, between mid-2015 and 2021, with the added disability exemption, he likely saved more than $21,268 in property taxes.

Despite their service, many Chicago and Cook County vets have not applied for the Disabled Veterans Exemption and should immediately take action to lessen the huge impact of the 2021 reassessment in the city. Visit the Cook County Assessor’s Office website (and select Exemptions from the menu at the top of the page) or call 312-443-7550.

Critics say exemptions undermine integrity of property tax system

While on active duty from mid-1969 to mid-1971 as a U.S. Navy sailor on the USS Ranger and USS Midway aircraft carriers during the Vietnam War, Northwest Side homeowner Dean Karouzos suffered severe hearing loss while his squadron participated in combat missions in the Tonkin Gulf.

“On the USS Ranger, my daily post during combat missions adjoined an inner-wall barrier for the starboard front launch catapult of our ship,” Karouzos recalled. “Our 12-hour shifts coincided with fight operations. As a result, the pounding catapult release during launch was extremely close to my left ear.”

Karouzos says he was proud to have served, but now, as a 74-year-old retiree, he suffers from hearing loss, especially in his left ear.

(Right) A younger Dean Karouzos aboard the USS Ranger in the Tonkin Gulf.

Dean Karouzos

“The left ear canal has collapsed to about half normal size of my right ear canal,” he explained.

Critics of the Disabled Veterans Exemption, and other exemptions for senior citizens, say they undermine the integrity of the property tax system.

A Chicago Sun-Times analysis published on October 1, 2021, singled out U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth – one of Illinois’ highest-profile combat veterans – and other affluent Chicago-area vets for accepting disability benefits.

Photo by James C. Svehla

Duckworth has accepted $37,842 in tax breaks on her primary residence in Hoffman Estates since 2015 as a 70 percent certified disabled veteran. She lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004. She now uses a wheelchair.

“I’m surprised that someone would question veterans – who have been wounded in service to their nation in a combat zone – accessing benefits,” said Duckworth (left).

Photo by James Svehla

This writer believes any Armed Forces member who serves, and is disabled in combat, deserves all the benefits America can offer. Gung-ho!

• Contact Don DeBat at debatnet@aol.com

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